Monday, 30 September 2019

Hexing It Up

For a while now I've been thinking of having a go at gridded figure wargames. There have been many fine examples down the years. There was Morschauser in the early 60s. Then more recently we have had the Command and Colors family of games used as the basis of figure games; Lost Battles by Phil Sabin; and To the Strongest/For King and Parliament. Apologies to any I've missed. Amongst worthy practitioners on the interweb are, in no particular order, The Jolly Broom Man on  1642 and All That, Peter over at Grid based wargaming, and Maximilien Foy, le Grand Comte lui-même, of Prometheus in Aspic fame. Now I've been quietly watching and reading these for years and have been increasingly tempted to give it a go. You only live once. And in this enlightened age I would have nothing to be ashamed about by, you know, indulging my 'other side'.

So why would I want to try gridded wargaming? Why swap the flexibility and 'more natural' appearance of traditional ungridded wargaming for something more stylised, abstract and 'artificial'? Well the short answer is, I don't know if I will swap, but the long-winded answer follows.

There are the usual reasons that are given in favour of gridding up your wargames. Time saving on not measuring. Less scope for cheating by fudging that extra 2mm of movement/shooting every turn. Clarity over where things are. Also for me, maybe the transition isn't so great in principle.

I currently wargame (mostly solo) on the dining table. I use the old school method of placing a cloth over the table. For hills, instead of using books, 60s-style, I have surged ahead to the white heat of the 1990s and utilise DVDs*. Or more accurately DVD boxes. These work for me as I use 6mm and 10mm toy soldiers so a DVD case ot two, layered up, up gives a decent sized ridge. It means the high ground has straight edges, but on the plus side it is highly flexible, and it has defined edges which help for determining if something is or isn't on high ground. My terrain is therefore highly stylised. It doesn't look as good as purpose made hills, but it has its advantages. I've already accepted compromises in return for benefits.

The wargames I play do not work with figure removal (too fiddly when your toys are under 1/2 inch high). As well as the fiddliness of figure removal, I also wanted to play at being the general in command, not a unit commander, so all of that stuff that goes on at unit level (casualties, morale, formation) gets abstracted out. My SYW (home-brewed rules) and Napoleonic (Polemos) games don't differentiate between infantry fire and hand-to-hand combat**; they just have 'combat' when units are in base-to-base contact. So I've abstracted out combat too, pretty much like a boardgame or a gridded figure game. Strictly-speaking gridded figure games could have figure removal (some of Ross Mac's games do this) but many seem to treat the unit or multi-figure base as an indivisible whole. So that's another area in which I've accepted a large degree of abstraction in the interests of what I want to acheive.

My ECW games (also home-brewed rules) are a bit different from the later horse'n'musket games that I play. The figures are a bit bigger (10mm rather than 6mm) and there are multi-base units with a bigger ground-scale and a lower ratio of toys to the soldiers that they represent. 1 toy soldier = 15-20 rather than 1 = 50. More significantly my ECW rules have ranged combat for foot and horse - as well as going 'stab-slash-wallop' when in base contact, they go 'bang' when separated by a few centimetres.

A trial is what is needed. I'd like to have a bash at a gridded version of my own rules and also a go at M. le Comte de Foy's Command and Colors-based ECW rules. Given that it's only a trial, I want something that I can do without a lot of effort. Scribing hundreds of hexagons on my cloth or new boards isn't going to cut the mustard. So I thought of painting dots in the corners of the grid on my cloth. Also I will suffer NO REBASING!

Hills are going to be tricky. At least in a trial. How do I represent higher ground within the confines of one or more hexes. I'm sure I can fudge a way.

Next question is hexes or squares? And if squares, traditional chess-tyle grid or offset squares? Not sure about the pros and cons but given the prevalance of C&C in my favoured blogs (and what I read as the less than favourable comments from them about FK&P) I'd be inclined towards hexes rather than squares.

Then there's the challenge of the size of the hex/square. Factors I need to consider include:
  • the size of my units (120mm wide in ECW; that would be a brigade of two regiments in my SYW rules, so that's also handy)
  • space available versus no. of hexes needed - width no problem on my table. Depth is potentially a problem. Standard C&C board is 13 x 9 hexes.
  • the sizes of commercially available hexes (Kallistra are 100mm 'across the flats'. What others are there available?)

I always wanted rivers that are lower than the rest of the board not vice versa. Trenches that are lower than the surrounding land, for a siege game would also be excellent. The problem has always been how to acheive this wthout a sand table or with limited flexibility terrain boards? A small grid would allow that option since it can be both modular and more flexible than terrain boards 12 or more inches square.  Longer term, if I do go for gridded games full-time I can do that finally! Probably.

In furtherance of these ambitions I sat down with pencil, compass and graph paper to work out what I could fit on my table. I'm not particularly mathematically inclined - it's been 40 years since I dropped it as a subject - so working out the right hex size is an exercise in trial and error for me. I didn't get very far, but the initial results are not encouraging. To fit my units (120mm) in across the flats requires a hex c 150mm from 'point to point'. Which means only 6 hexes deep on my table. I could go for just two infantry bases with one dropped back or pushed forward, and cavalry 3 bases with one dropped back, so the width would be 90mm and depth proportionally smaller. This would fit with Kallistra's 100mm wide hexes, but be less satisfactory with my SYW bases (60mm wide) which I will not put one behind the other because it doesn't look linear enough***. Still too deep but maybe I could cope with a bit of overhang.

It looks like more work and more thinking is required, unless there is a blinding flash of isnpiration. I suppose I could make do temporarily with small hexes just to try it out, but what follows if I find that hexes are the business? I'd have to get boards which are 50% deeper than my table to get the full 9 x 150mm point-to-point hexes in. And even then, I suspect that hexes that size will look too big for my scale of toys and bases. Then I have to think about whether to have separate shooting or bundle it with 'melee' - I fear I am still too much of a ground up literalist to allow my toys to shoot a lot further than 200 yards unless it is very ineffective. Hmmm! Lots to think about.

Edit: I was correct when I said it has been 40 years since I studied any maths. A lot else was wrong though in the last two paragraphs. I'd used pencil, compass, protractor and ruler to work out the dimensions. I was doing some head-scratching tonight (not not because of another outbreak of head lice at the girls' school****) wondering some more about hexagons and if I'd really got my calcs right. Short answer to that question was no (no smirking*****) . I found this useful calculator here .  This gives me slightly more room for optimism - a hexagon with a width of 120mm 'across the flats' has a length (point to point) of less than 14cm. I also remembered that hexagons on a game board are not laid point to point but have their pointy bits 'overlapping' (DOH!) so I don't need to fit 9 lots of 14cm in. I need 9 lots of 10.4 plus a bit, so just shy of 97cm. My dining table depth is 'only' 7cm too short. I can manage for now without 1 row of hexes I'm sure, so I'll mark up my cloth at the weekend. Happy days! 

I'm glad to have found out that I was stupid. 🤓 

* You can't do that with your e-books and streaming services! Whose the mug now eh, kids?
** Which there should only be rare examples of anyway. 
*** I will only go so far in a compromise and I DO NOT want to rebase that lot! My ex-wife always did accuse me of being a purist (as if wanting something to be right was wrong....I know, I know... I should let it go, pedantry can be so restricting).
**** Kids (or at least girls) these days seem to go through 2 rounds of head lice: once when they are about 6 and have lots of cuddles with their friends; and once when they're about 12 and all stick their heads together for a group 'selfie' or whatever you call it.
***** Give yourself a talking to if you think that's what they say in Hull when you light up indoors. That of course is nonsense: it would be rendered 'ner smirking'.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Cheriton - The Wargame

Today was finally C-Day. The extra extension was fitted to the dining table making it 8 feet long by 3 feet wide. Or 2400 yards by 900 in scale. I used my own rules again and this time found less need to tweak them, which is a good sign. But then I know what I was intending things to mean and playing solo does give you more opportunities to 'interpret' without a 'debate' with an opponent. The game took two and half hours, which is not bad, helped by the introduction of a simple break point mechanism. I worked on the basis of 25% of bases eliminated as being the break point. So the respective totals were:

Horse - 36 bases
Foot - 18 bases (in 6 battalia)
Artillery - 3 bases
Break Point - 14 bases

Horse - 54 bases
Foot - 21 bases (in 7 battalia)
Artillery - 4 bases
Dragoons - 4 bases
Break point - 21

I'd originally worked out orders of battle that had the same numbers of foot and guns as above but the Horse totals should have been higher. However, I had overestimated how many horse bases I had so each side had to be cut back. So I 'need' more cavalry. And staff figures - I barely had enough for two commanders and brigade commanders let alone the messenger figures needed. I need to have a serious conversation with the provost and the quartermaster general.

As mentioned in a previous post, I opted for the Adair hypothesis for the position of the battlefield rather than the traditional view. So my action was bounded in the north by the 'South Spur' of the 'Arena', in the south by the ridge that Hinton Ampner lies on, and the west by the valley of the River Itchen's headwaters. I didn't depict the stream on the table as it's effect would be negligible at that point. I started the game at the point where the London Brigade had already been ejected from Cheriton Wood.  For this scenario, I chose to depict two lanes boardered by hedgerows, heading from the South Spur. I intended these to take the part of those enclosures which reportedly restricted Royalist cavalry deployment. The two lanes were 'Alresford Lane', and 'Broad Lane'. On the table the lanes open out as the reach the field at the foot of the ridge. Until that point the cavalry advancing down them have to remain in route column - after that they could test to deploy (following normal house rules for change of formation/direction etc).

The narrative of the game is told below through the pictures with captions. The game started with some amazing shooting by Hopton's guns. Over the course of the game they took out 3/4 of their opposite numbers. The photos, unfortunately, do not show this bright spot for the King's men.

Royalists to the left (on the 'Southern Spur'). 'The little village' (not believed to be Cheriton) to the foreground on the left. Cheriton Wood would be off table, top left. Alresford Lane in the background and Broad Lane near the middle.

Royalist foot occupy the 'little village' They were to retain posession throughout and their long range shooting successfully held of the Rebel dragoons.

Royalist horse descend the ridge via Broad Lane, cheered on by their brigade commander.

Royalist left wing infantry, fresh from their success in Cheriton Wood, eager to 'tickle' more rebels with their pikes. The pikemen are conversions from Pendraken musketeers firing. The blue coated musketeers on the right are mostly Pendraken peasants with some farm implements who I've painted up as musketeers with weapons reversed to use as clubs.

Aerial view of the eastern end of the battlefield. Royalists to the north (top). The Petersfield road cuts through the valley in the middle. Alresford Lane comes in from the top.

Western end of the battlefield. Broad Lane heading down from the top towards the Petersfield Road

Early clash just north of the road on the Parliamentary left. Rebels to the right. After a couple of rounds there was no decisive breakthrough. Both sides separated and gradually, unit by unit throughout the game they came back into contact for a grinding match that the Rebels got the better of.

After pounding down Broad Lane a regiment of Royalist horse failed to deploy and went crashing in route column into a unit of Parliamentary foot on the ridge opposite. The Parliamentarians were pushed back with losses but the Royalists couldn't inflict a decisive blow from their narrow frontage.

Another shot of the uphill charge in column.

On the left wing, the Royalist horse also failed to deploy and were met head on by a Parliamentarians regiment coming down off the 'Hinton Ampner ridge'.

Cavalry actions were occurring all over the field. Here in the centre a large Parliamentarian regiment exchanges blows with a smaller Royalist unit.

The Royalist cavalry that attacked still in column is in turn hit in the flank by a powerful Parliamentarian regiment. Because only two bases contacted, the effect was not as bad as it could have been.
In the plain near the village a Roundhead regiment attempts to charge home against a Royalist foot unit. They were met bravely, and with a whiff of blackpowder and lead, they were sent packing. The horse unit was then in danger of a severe mauling if it stayed nearby so it promptly countermarched to the rear (having successfully passed the test to change direction). This could be a dgerous move in itself as if they didn't pass another test they would continue marching off the field - under my rules units 'march to the last orders' until those orders are passing a test.

Near Alresford Lane the Parliamentarians are gradually pushing the Royalist horse back up the slope.

After an inconclusive first round, a second Rebel regiment joins the fray at the junction of Alresford Lane and Petersfield Road.

Back in the Parliamentarian left centre, the two sides' horse stand-off and recover their breath after a fairly inconclusive first round.

Rout! Hit in front and flank, the first Royalist unit breaks leaving their chums (in blue by the hedge) behind. They are pursued down the slope by the Roundheads.

General view of the western end. The unit of blue horse in the near ground are the Roundhead unit seen off by the Royalist foot (blue on the left).

Anothe Royalist unit breaks. This time the horse who charged up the ridge in column on Broad Lane.

Yet another regiment of Royalist horse has broken (the chaps heading towards the hedge). It's all over for the Royalists having reached their 'break point'.

Bases lost by the two sides. Parliamentarians at the top of the picture. Note the 3 guns. By contrast all the Royalist losses are horse. If the game had lasted another turn the Parliamentarians could have lost up to 5 more bases (3 casualty markers = 1 lost base), but it still wouldn't have been enough to swing the result. The container used here is one of my olde Fererro Rocher boxes lined with magnetc paper. Thanks to Mrs Nundanket's friend, I now have 4 empty boxes ready for re-inforcements!

End state. The foot on both sides are largely untouched, but the majority of the Royalist horse has been soundly defeated. Time for the pretend Hopton and Forth to beat the retreat.

It never came to this.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Fortuna, Football and Fawcets

The best laid plans and all that. As last weekend approached, another opportunity to get a game on the table was dangled in front of me. I'd spent some time reducing the orders of battle in Adair's book on Cheriton into something suitable for the table top. Just the odd chore or two for Saturday morning  then I could cover the table with DVD hills and green baize. I even fantasised briefly about dismantling the dining room table and setting it up in the living room (south facing, much more light). Or even in the back garden! The weather was set to be dry and windless all weekend. Brilliant: the garden table could provide a bit more depth to the battlefield.

The list of chores grew a little, as the the tap unit on the kitchen sink finally needs replacement. I reckon I could do that, thought I. It's not rocket science. Those of you familiar with the classical myths will have already spotted that Fate was toying with me. Bellona et Fortuna indeed! To a certain extent I was happy to play along with her. By the time I got back from Wickes and had some late lunch I thought I would not have time to get the game completed by the time Mrs Nundanket came home from work. Whilst coming back I saw people on the way to Kingsmeadow. AFC Wimbledon were playing at home (I'd spotted a couple of Shrewsbury shirts in town) and I haven't been to a game so far this season. The early season fixture list hasn't fallen kindly for us southern based exiled Mariners. 'Hmm, not a bad way to kill an hour or three until the love of my life comes home. I'm not going to get any gaming done today now so...'. So off I tootled to the match and found out why Wimbledon are rooted to the wrong end of the Third Division.

I've got a bit of A Soft Spot for AFCW, mainly on 'political' grounds*. I'd been happy to encourage my son to go along with his mates when he was a teenager. For one, the ground is walkable. Season tickets for kids were cheap, and a bunch of them would go to the home games together. When older they went on away trips and had a ''right larf". All good stuff. Part of growing up. I also had a cunning motivation behind encouraging my son to follow a club other than Grimsby Town [fill in your own joke about child cruelty].

I will never forget the time I went to see AFC Wimbledon's first ever game - a pre-season friendly, when over 4000 turned up to watch a scratch Wimbledon side get well and trully beaten by Sutton United. Many in the crowd were, like me, fans of other clubs their to show solidarity because of the circumstances of the club's foundation after the old Wimbledon FC had been 'franchised' and allowed to move to Milton Keynes. In my experience the oaccasions when the hairs on the back of my neck literally did stand on end are few and far between. This was one of them.  The newly formed club had held open trials on Wimbledon Common for anyone who fancied their chances. The game at Sutton came a few days later. I'd read about the foundation of our famous football clubs back in the distant days of Queen Victoria, but this was it being played out in front of our eyes, but with the benefit of an already formed, passionate fanbase. Heady stuff.

The area we live in is Chelsea country. You get the odd Fulhamite, but you're much more likely to see royal blue on replica football shirts than even ManUtd/Arsenal red or Spurs white. 'I'm not having that', I thought, 'if he's going to support a London club I'll give him a gentle steer towards someone I'd be happy to go to as well. And by comparison Grimsby will seem good.' I also justified it on the grounds that it will also be character-building for him. This was at the time when Wimbledon were still 3 or so promotions from a return to the Football League and Town were 'on loan' to the fourth Division having had two successive relegations from what is laughingly called the Championship these days.

Whilst the operational aspects went badly awry (we briefly rubbed shoulders with Wimbledon in the National League when they were on the way up and we had FIVE more seasons down there) the grand strategy worked perfectly. In fact at times I worry that I have created a monster. So Son trots off to Town games in the NW from his Liverpool base (where he is doing a BSc in Colouring-in). Saturday was one of those days. Oldham Athletic. They're another Lancashire club in a financial mess, haven't won in seven (we don't count the B-Team cup win against Liverpool's kids), whilst Town were the division's top scorers, top 6 etc.....Unsurprisingly I got a message from Son saying Oldham had just scored. Then again half way through the second half, ping, two-nil down. 10 minutes to go, 2-1. Game on. Nail biter. I distracted myself by sending the lad updates from the Wimbledon game. 90 minutes. Ping! '2-2! Bedlam!!' Took me a second or two to work out we hadn't signed a player called Bedlam. Good ending then. And the Wimbledon result? 1-1.

Saturday was wasted then, in wargaming terms. Sunday! Another hot and sunny day. Household chores then time to do the kitchen tap unit. Stopcock off. Taps running. Ah! Need a new adjustable spanner. Checked with Lincolnshire Tom (another Mariner exiled to the same postcode area). Yep. He has a selection of suitable tools. Turn off taps and stopcock on so daughter can use the bathroom. Sprayed the tight nuts with WD40 and let it soak in while I went to Tom's. Ended up having a good 'yarn'. Time to get moving. Car engine fan whirring. Coolant VERY low. Stop off to get some coolant. Stop off to get some bits from Aldi. Home. 'Oh cripes' water dripping from stopcock and all over kitchen unit and floor (don't ask, it's in a daft place). Manage to stop dripping. Clean up. Make sandwiches. Stopcock off and taps running again. And running. And running. Had snooze. Taps still running! Obviously something wrong with the stopcock too. Blast it. Time to start preparing dinner. Another day gone. Another weekend gone. And weekends are the key time for wargames for me, still being a wage slave.  By the time I've finished work/evening calls, been for a swim and eaten I don't feel up to setting up the table.

Eventually I admitted defeat and have called the professionals in to deal with the plumbing. Next weekend I will get Cheriton on the table.......

* For anyone unfamiliar with British football fan culture, it's universally considered the utmost bad form to switch allegiances from one club to another. Fundamentalists will even cry 'apostate' at anyone who admits to having a second club. But we live in a mobile society. People move around the country, or indeed the world, to pursue their careers and well, discover new things. They meet strange people, find they haven't got 2 heads and even go to watch the football with them. Over years, new attachements grow and one thing leads to another. Or the offspring of people exiled from their hometown [oh, that reminds me of the related unwritten law, erm written below**] will also potentially have allegiances to two (or more!) clubs. So the Elders got together and came up with the pragmatic notion of 'having a Soft Spot' for another club. "I support [insert name of big city club] because I was born there, but I have a soft spot for [insert name of Scottish club with romantic name] because my dad is from there". "I support Sunderland, that's where I'm from, but I have a soft spot for Dover Athletic. I spent many years working in Dover. Good set of lads. We used to go up to Crabble, have a few pints like. Bit of a laugh." This is an acceptable thing to admit to, though it does not preclude you being ribbed for it of course.

** If you support a club that you have no plausible connection to (i.e. immediate family connection), you are known as, to use the technical jargon, 'a glory hunting knob'. This rather assumes that we're talking about people supporting one of the really good teams Not those who select club's they have no 'real connection to because they like the sound of the name, or like the hooped shirts 'because they're different', or stuck a pin in the map, or picked whoever was bottom of the League the day they decided to buck the trend at school. Or they're from Scandinavia and picked an unfashionable English or Scottish club. Great suspicion will be heaped on someone from say, Northampton, supporting Manchester City. The person under suspicion will have to go to great lengths to demonstrate how long they have supported the Big Club and protest that they supported the Big Club "even when we were rubbish and didn't have a pot to piss in". The suspect will be careful to use the term 'we' and not 'they'. But he or she will still be muttered about by the Righteous as not a Proper Fan.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Unseasonal Song

I know some of you out there like nothing better than to slop on a wooly jumper, stick your finger in your ear and sing through your beard.

I was born near the end of the baby boom and it seemed that every other primary school teacher wore long cotton dresses and played guitar.  All in the great tradition of 20th century folk revivals of course. Indeed, my own eldest sister did her best to conform to the stereotype, even coming home from teacher training college one Christmas with a Narfuk accent (it sounds more 'Yokel' than a Grimsby accent).  Once a week at junior school the teacher would wheel in a reel-to-reel tape recorder with the latest hip chunes from BBC For Schools and the accompanying songbooks. The fashion in these things was rather ecclectic. The Lincolnshire Poacher (hooray!) rubbed shoulders with Hava Nagila, La Cucaracha and countless Irish songs which always seemed to be about ladies running away with Gypsies. They always seemed to forget the words in these Irish songs, the choruses being all nonsense lyrics like ''ah de do do de do dah day". Or was it misheard Gaelic?

Something must have sunk in and seeped into my soul. Years later, like an Ossi finding that the 'freedoms' of the West fail to meet some essential human need, I slowly returned to the path.  I was flicking around earlier through some of my old YouTube faves and came across this song which always nudges some ancient feeling in me. Despite not understanding a word of the lyric* the whole thing feels familiar. Maybe someone more educated in the craft can explain the universality of the tune/sentiment.

The feeling is also helped by the fact the blonde singer vaguely reminds me of my teacher in the third year of junior school.

 May be welcome

* That is until I discovered the translation above, when suddenly the odd word, when written down (but usually not when spoken) kind of made sense in an archaic English/northern dialect kind of way. E.G. we used to call the dessert/pudding course our 'afters'. I had the distinct impression (from where I don't know) that this was terribly common of us. Now I know it's not improper English at all, but perfectly legitimate dialect from some ancient Norse word 😀

Monday, 16 September 2019

Adwalton Moor - the Wargame

A combination of Fate and my own connivance with said deity, conspired to derail my plans to stage Cheriton over the weekend just gone. It's a tale of Football, Fate and Fawcets (Togger, Travails and Taps was the best British-English I could come up with).  Whilst searching through my files I came across some photos of a solo game of Adwalton Moor played back in April using my ECW rules. It was the 4th outing for the rules and they played well and just need a bit of tightening up.

Adwalton Moor was fought between Lord Fairfax's Parliamentarians and the Royalists under the Earl of Newcastle on 30 June 1643. In the initial contact the Parliamentarians drove off the Royalist advance guard, then continued until they met their main force. Fairfax's army, outnumbered two to one, nearly pulled off a stunning victory, but numbers eventually told and once the Royalists made a breakthrough Fairfax's forces were scattered to the winds. Eventually Lord Fairfax and his son (Sir Thomas - 'Black Tom') made it to Hull after various scrapes along the way. Sir Thomas had to take the long way round to Hull via Barton-upon-Humber in Lincolnshire. The Parliamentarians lost Bradford and most of the rest of Yorkshire, but crucially were able to cling on to Hull.

The site of the battle lies a few miles south east of Bradford (or south west of Leeds, if you are of the Leodensian persuasion). The battle occurred as an encounter between the two forces on a long, narrow ridge bearing the road from Bradford to Wakefield. The two sides met on a saddle between two hills (Whiskett Hill to the north west, and Hangar Hill to the south east) on the ridge. Fairfax was heading south east from Bradford and Newcastle heading in the opposite direction. After the repulse of their advance guard, the Royalists deployed their musketeers in the enclosures, with the pikemen and horse some way behind by Hangar Hill. The Royalist musketeers were thrown back from the enclosures which were then occupied by Fairfax's men where they waited for the Royalists. The position was difficult to outflank because it was sited on a narrow ridge, the flanks of which were steep and difficult to manoeuvre on. It was going to be a head on clash in a restricted area.

It's at this stage that my wargame of Adwalton Moor commences. This wasn't a particularly tactical game. No sophistication. No room for manoevre. Layout of the hedges is obviously a simplification of what may have been there, and just marks the edges of what the Battlefield Trust map shows as 'Probable Enclosures'. The captions on the pictures below tell the story of the game.

Orders of Battle
The forces engaged were about 10,000 Royalists (split roughly 50:50 horse and foot) and about half that number of Parliamentarians, most of which were foot. See below for the Parliamentarian breakdown (I have nothing for the Royalists beyond the 50:50 split).

Lord Fairfax
Leeds Garrison          - 1200
Halifax area garrisons -   500
Lancashire foot          - 1200
Bradford Garrison      -  600
Horse                         - 650-700 (13 troops)
Clubmen                    - unknown

My toys are organised as follows:
  • Horse, 1 base of 3 figures = 1 troop. (Trotters are in 2 rows of bases, Gallopers 1 row)
  • Foot, 2 musketeer and 1 pike base, each of c. 12 figures = 1 battalia (battalion?). 
In addition each unit of horse or foot has a command stand made up of an officer, a drummer/trumpeter and a standard bearer or two. These are used purely to indicate what the unit is doing by the position that they occupy.

In my game of Adwalton Moor Fairfax's army broke down into 6 battalia and 2 regiments of horse, plus 3 bases of clubmen. Newcastle's army was represented by 78 troops (bases of horse) excluding command stands, and 10 battalia of foot.

The Wargame

Newcastle's cavalry look down Hangar Hill towards the enclosures in the distance where the Rebels are waiting. Royalist foot is in the middle ground. The figures are mostly Pendraken 10mm, with the odd unit of Irregular Miniatures and a handful of Lancer Miniatures. The chaps in the foreground are actually from Pendraken's "War of the League of Augsburg" range. I must get around to giving the horse standards.
View from Fairfax's position. Hedges are traditional home made efforts made from scouring pads on lollipop sticks
Bird's eye view at the start. Royalists to the right with scary looking numbers of horse (the second line is all horse, as are the columns to the rear)

And they're off! This was a job mainly for the infantry whose task was to push the Rebels back from the hedges to give scope for the horse to cross through and finish the job. The right flank was able to activate with a reasonable degree of co-ordination but the left look refused because they, well, refused to advance at first. The horse on the hill, next to the village (Adwalton) were deliberately held back.

Slow going this. The Royalist right gets held up at hedges allowing the left to make up some ground.

At this point, the Parliamentarians were singing Psalms to steady the nerves. We can disregard scurrilous suggestions that they were singing 'Ilkley Moor' - some of them were Lancashire men. And there were plenty of hats.

The wave crashes! Along the Royalist right and centre the foot are given a mauling and are repulsed. Eventually a column of horse make it to the hedgerow (far right) where the way has been prepared by a regiment of foot. Set some way back from the hedge is a regiment of Rebel horse, waiting to punish the Idolatrous!

Fairfax's horse charge and manage to hold off the main column of the Cavaliers, but 4 troops of the Papists' Fellow Travellers make it through and flank a regiment of Roundhead foot.

Meanwhile on the Royalist left. Having run out of fresh foot, the Cavaliers launch themselves at the hedgrows. At the bottom a (blue) regiment of 8 troops has made it over the hedge (there simply aren't enough foot to man the whole thing) and are met by the right wing (yes that's the whole right wing) Roundhead horse.
Eventually the Roundhead horse is seen off, pursued by the Blues, with the gap filled by another fresh regiment. It's about time the Parliamentary foot made themselves scarce. You can see that in the centre and far right (just about) that an organised withdrawal is occurring. They probably won't make it back to Bradford. I called it a day at this point.

So the game played out pretty much as should be expected (I'll take that as assurance that something has gone right.

My main source for this was David Cooke's very useful book The Civil War in Yorkshire: Fairfax versus Newcastle (Barnsley, 2004) . There's lots of inspiration in there with accounts of several small-scale actions around built-up areas, as well as the Big One near York. Oddly there's not much on the siege of Hull (though York is covered). But overall, it's well worth getting.

The usual BCW Project and Battlefield Trust links are below.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Spanish Troops in WWII

Hello, me again. Back in the 20th century surpisingly.

Inspired by one of Bob Cordery's recent posts in Wargaming Miscellany about a trip he made to the Museum of Toy Soliders* in Valencia, I did a quick internet search on Spanish troops fighting in the Free French Forces during WWII. In his blog, Bob displays some photos from the museum of SCW figures and some pictures depicting a Spanish company of the French 2nd Armoured Division in 1944. I'd heard of the Division Azul (Spanish Fascist volunteers) fighting on the Eastern Front with the Nazis, but I had never heard much, about Spanish fighting against the Axis in WWII. One notable exception is an episode of Dad's Army where the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard were instructed in guerrilla warfare techniques by a Spanish anti-Fascist**. I'm a little ashamed of this as the Spanish Civil War was one of the topics I found the most interesting back in my days as a history undergrad. I didn't spend much time wondering what happened to all those POUMistas, Catalan and Basque separatists, CNT-FAI militias, Communists and old school liberals who made it out of Spain after Franco's victory***.

During and after the Spanish Civil War, the majority of Republican fighters and their families who fled the country, made the relatively short (but perilous) trip across the Pyrenees into France. Initially given the cold shoulder by the French government (fear of 'Red' infiltration), the Spanish were welcomed as fellow fighters of Fascism when war was declared on Germany. After the debacle in 1940 about 2000 made it to Britain via Dunkirk but more ended up in units under the control of Vichy France, either in France itself or in the empire in North Africa and the Levant. Some made it via the Foreign Legion in Syria into the British army and even into the SAS and fought in the Italian campaigns. Sadly 10,500 Spanish people in occupied France were transported to concentration camps where 80% of them died.

The company in the French 2nd Armoured Div (Le Clerc's unit who famously were the first Allied unit into Paris in August 1944) the 9th company of the Régiment de marche du Tchad became known as La Nueve - the Nine - because the majority of its members were Spanish. La Nueve were the first sub-unit of the Régiment de marche du Tchad into Paris, so the first 'French' soldiers in were in fact Spanish.

I found this an interesting, if relatively unknown, aspect of WWII. I suppose it was only natural that some of the first people to take up armed resistance against Fascism should seek to continue the struggle to eventual victory. You have to salute the resilience and bravery of these people who helped liberate Europe, but had to wait another 30 years for their own homeland to be liberated.

¡No pasarán!

* I'm loosely translating.
** That was a little insight into the serious side of the Home Guard, who had a cadre trained in brutal underground warfare in the event of a Nazi occupation of Britain.
*** Apart from those Anglophone veterans who published their memoirs, and references to Spanish Communists who made it into the Red Army.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Cheriton - location of the Battle

After my diversions in the 18th and 20th centuries, I now return to the 17th. I'm itching (Itchen?) to get Cheriton on to the wargaming table but have a couple of loose ends to tie up. One is the location of the battle and the other is the order of battle. Rather innovatively, I'm taking first things first and I'll come back to the orders of battle in the next post.

Thanks to Steve-the-Wargamer and the Polemarch, I got hold of Adair's book on Cheriton and Wanklyn's Decisive Battles of the ECW. Both of which, as Steve said, favour the hypothesis that the battle was fought further south than the 'traditional' site of the battle.

Most of the books and websites I quoted on the previous post More on Cheriton - Orders of Battle state that the battle was fought in the 'Arena' immediately to the west of Cheriton Wood. One thing that always puzzled me about this was that the battle started with two of the London Trained Bands regiments of Waller's Parliamentarian army trying to gain the flank of the Royalist position by occupying Cheriton Wood. The northenmost extent of the wood was still some way south of the Royalist starting position. So not quite outflanking. If they came out of the north side of the wood they still had some ground to cover and would then be isolated from the rest of the Parliamentarian army by a large expanse of wood. Not a killer blow to the traditional site of the battle, but enough to get me thinking.

The other factor I puzzled over is that there is a spur of higher ground jutting west into the 'Arena' from the direction of Cheriton Wood, which as I noted on my battlefield walk, was on noticeably higher ground. This didn't get mentioned in any of the previous accounts of the battle I'd read. Not a showstopper, but surprising nontheless as this spur creates dead ground on either side from the point of view of the ridges north and south of the arena and looks like it would be significant ground in a battle.

Anyway, Adair and Wanklyn both come down in favour of the battle being fought between what Wanklyn calls the South Spur* and the ridge where Hinton Ampner is located. Wanklyn is much less certain about this than Adair, and, as any good professional historian would, hedges his opinion with various caveats, ifs ands and maybes. The map in the link below to the Battlefields Trust site shows the traditional view:

* The North Spur being the ridge where the Royalists started the day, with the 'Arena' being between the North and South Spurs.

So where the Battlefields Trust (and most other websites and authors) have the Parliamentarians, Adair and Wanklyn have the Royalists. I won't go into all the reasons they give for this, but it explains why the London Regiments' occupation of Cheriton Wood was so dangerous to the Royalists. Adair and Wanklyn have the Royalists marching down from their position on the North Spur to occupy the South Spur.

From a wargaming point of view this suits me because the distance between the two positions would then be about half a mile which conveniently is the depth of my table at the normal ground scale I use (1mm to the yard). I've taken the simplified contour map from the Battlefields Trust site (see link above) and superimposed a rectangle the size of my scaled up table (8ft x 3 ft) and marked on the approximate start positions of the two armies. I've done the same on the section of the OS map shown on the Battlefields Trust site too, for more detail on the slopes and possible tracks and hedge rows (which will be conjectural for the 1640s because I don't know exactly where hedges where then. For my game I'll start after the London brigade has been chased out of Cheriton Wood to simplify things.

Approx table layout. Cavaliers are on the 'South Spur'. Cheriton Wood is just at the table edge behind the Royalist left flank, Hinton Ampner to the south of the Parliamentarians.The small red rectangles are Roundhead positions from the Battlefield Trust map.
More detailed view from the OS map extract. The Parlies are along the A272, Petersfield Road, the red road entering from the bottom right.

I'll do an update on the orders of battle gleaned from Adair, and how I propose to translate these to the tabletop in the next post. The aim is to play it Billy Nomates style on Saturday, as the eldest offspring has returned to the North West where he is a 'stewwdent'. My homemade rules will get their 5th run out, having given a good game for Edgehill, Adwalton Moor as well as two lesser known Grim encounters in Lincolnshire.

One final thought before I bid you adieu. If I'd read Wanklyn and Adair before, I might not have traipsed so far on my battlefield visit last year! Still it's beautiful countryside so no real harm done.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Tuntematon Sotilas - (The) Unknown Soldier - and other historical rambles

For those of you interested (probably just my imaginary Finnish friend who's into history), I got around to watching all 5 episodes (4 1/2 hours) of Tuntematon Sotilas. Before I jump into comments on the production, I wanted to make a little detour and to give a bit more background. The reason for the definite article in parentheses in the title is because Finnish doesn't have articles, so I'm not sure if it's meant to be 'The' or 'An', or if it's deliberately ambiguous. The story is after all about a whole (machine gun) platoon, or at least several soldiers within it (if not a whole generation), 'it' (A? The?) could be any one of them. Everyman. The fact there is no main character, in the book, it is an ensemble piece, is important I think. The men are all working class guys, including the platoon commander, 2nd lieutenant Koskela, younger son of a peasant farmer. Other officers (and ORs from other platoons and sub-units) seem to flit in and out, apart from perhaps lieutenant Kariluoto (a rifle platoon/company commander in the same battalion). Kariluoto seems to be from a more monied background than the other main personalities, and cut straight from the 19th century liberal-nationalist ideal. Contrary to the usual sterotypes, he and Koskela get along and develop an effective working relationship.

DVD cover

I may have said it previously, but this is seems to be an absolute classic of modern Finnish literature. To my knowledge there have been at least three cinematic or televisual versions made since it was published in 1954. It seems to me bound up in the national self-image, and maybe even holds a lesson in how this small nation must be in order to survive as an independent country. i.e. we know how to work, struggle and fight hard, but we really shouldn't do anything to annoy the Bear. Remember, this is against the background of other ex-Russian Empire states (Latvia, Lituania and Estonia) being swallowed up whole by the Soviet Union. And Finland managed to avoid being occupied by the Soviets, bar losing a sizeable chunk of territory, and the placement of temporary military bases (which were handed back in the mid-50s). There's the aforementioned strain of doing what needs to be done. And there's a theme, to my mind at least, about authority and how it comes about. The platoon generally get on and do what is necessary, Koskela has the men's respect and they follow him, but he doesn't do it by pulling rank. Generally they don't tolerate airs and graces or being bossed about - one soldier strikingly effective soldier outdoes his comrades in this respect. To me that says something about the culture of egalitarianism in the country.

Having recently re-read the book, the story was fresh in my mind and I was duly impressed by the faithfulness generally to the plot. Also the parts seemed to be well cast. They were largely as I imagined the characters to look. I was particularly struck by the physical resemblance and manerisms of Vera (a resident of Petrozavodsk) to the person in the book. Either someone has access to my mind (worrying thought) or Linna drew the character so well, there is a common understanding of exactly how she should be portrayed! Some of the characters seemed to be played down compared to their more prominent role in the book (Määtä, is one that springs to mind). Conversely, the part of Rokka, admittedly a larger than life character in the original, seemed to be more central, but that is just my impression. I get that with film, sometimes shortcuts have to be taken. And Rokka is one of those characters who is so iconic, you can understand why he was chosen. If you're familiar with, or aware of SLA Marshall's findings in Men Against Fire, Rokka is the small minority of men who takes the battle to the enemy, but otherwise is that most unmilitary of men, even compared to other citizen soldiers. The only quibble I'd have made with that first episode is that the book takes more time to show you the characters of more of the men, but again I understand choices sometimes have to be made. Koskela himself seems to take a little bit of a backseat too compared to his place in the book. However, 'Koski' is a very quiet man on the whole and spends a lot of time deep in thought, and that's hard to portray in film. How do you do that without clunky additional dialogue?

The wonderful Diana Poszharskaya conjured up as Vera in my imagination
Some of what I'm going to say next are, in the grand scheme of things, small quibbles. The series overall is brilliantly done. Absolutely faithful, and apparently historically accurate. I'm no WWII expert and someone better qualified than me will probably be able to point out that the T34s on show were variants produced for the Egyptians in the 1950s (I made that bit up). But to someone like me who isn't an expert but is not a complete ignoramus either, it was plausible.

So my quibbles? There were a number of added scenes. Some of them I felt actually helped. They explained the hinterland (literally in some cases) of the characters. Rokka's memories of him and his wife moving back to their farm in E.Karelia after it had been retaken from the Soviets in 1941 adds to the background of the character and the war. This guy was fighting for his home in a very real sense. His wife was shown tending to the farm on her own - it's only refered to in the book. Bear in mind this is a very unmechanised agriculture. Again, this explained his motivation. The man wants to do what's necessary to finish the war and get back home. There's a scene with Rokka home on leave - I don't remember this either. But it seems to add to the story. This ideal warrior is actually the perfect Finnish family man. He quietly gets on with the things that he has to do. There's not a lot of lovey-dovey dialogue or dramatic embraces or I love yous, but you know from the understated glances and taciturn joking references that the people have a deep love. Genuinely moving stuff. In the part relating to 1944, the family are shown packing up their essentials and fleeing west for the second time in five years (we know never to come back). If you weren't blubbing by now you would be a hard fellow indeed.

Some scenes seemed to be added gratuitously. There's a few references to 'Lottas' (or Lotta Svärd) - usually with the soldiers referring to them as the officers' 'floozies' or even 'whores'. There are hints. That's about it. For some reason this production has to introduce several scenes which involve the battalion commander having an affair with one of the Lottas, and it's affect on the nurse. I'm no prude, I don't object to 'nookie' being shown. But these scenes added nothing to the understanding of the characters. Completely extraneous in my opinion. I'm sure stuff like this must have gone on, but it just waters down the time for the characters in the book.

Other, perhaps unecessarily added scenes include Rahikainen (the platoon's, erm, 'informal Quartermaster') is shown pimping women in Petroskoi (Petrozavodsk). It fits with the character but I don't recall this being specifically covered in the book. Similarly, later on scenes of women residents of the city are shown impounded (the Finns established internment camps in occupied Soviet territory). Why have these scenes been added? Is this a counter-weight to the Rokka home scenes, to show a younger generation that the Finns were not simply the good guys (an older generation would have known this from direct experience or passed-on knowledge)? Is it a sympton of a latter-day Finlandisation? I don't think this is needed anyway because the book and the programme do call out the fact they cross the old border into 'Soviet Karelia' (i.e. the bit of Karelia that was never part of an independent Finland). One of the soldiers specifically says something to the effect of 'from this point on we are no longer liberators, but bandits'.  The book shows some of the residents of Petroskoi being distinctly against the Finnish invasion and question the soldiers as to why they have come. I don't recall the book mentioning Hietanen having sex with Vera either (maybe I forgot that bit?) though she is touched by the fact he gives his bread to the local children.

Another couple of added scenes concern the Koskela family. This explains something important going on historically I think.  I'm going off on a bit of a diversion here, so please bear with me. The Koskela family story is told in great length in another of Linna's works - the trilogy 'Täällä Pohjantähden alla' (Here Under the North Star). (also available on DVD). The first part of the trilogy set in the late 19th century, shows how Jussi Koskela hacked a plot out of forest and swamp, only to have the best of the land, land which he'd created, taken away from him by the landlord, the local pastor. The level of hardship portrayed is staggering and informs much of what follows. I was given some inkling of how different things were from the prosperous, modern country, when I was told that my wife's great grandmother was sold as a child in the early 1900s! Put this into context - whilst it was part of the Russian Empire at the time, this wasn't the former serf-holding heartlands, but the more recently added. 'freer' part. The territory that gave (some?) women the vote before the First World War.

Two box set of Here Under the North Star
Getting back to the Linna story, the Koskela family become involved in the bitter Civil War that broke out after independence, and were on the losing side (the Reds). They paid the price when some of the men in the family were executed by the Whites*. In Unknown Soldier, Koski's father pleads with him (again in a very understated way) not to get himself killed fighting for the people who carried out these atrocities. This, to me, again adds something to the story.  The younger generation is putting aside (temporarily at least) the strife of their fathers' generation in order to fight the bigger perceived threat. Indeed, in a more amusing epsiode in the trenches, one of the platoon (a man for whom the capitalist oppressors have done no favours) responds to Soviet attempts to persuade the Finns to mutiny by lobbing back earthy rejoinders. What today we would call banter. The downtrodden, poor, but independent-minded Finn was not going to respond in the expected fashion! In the last part of the North Star trilogy, we see the beginnings of the new welfare state of Finland. So after grinding poverty, hard work, strife, more hard work and then the ultimate sacrifice, we end at something approaching the sunlit uplands.

They've been able to keep hold of it better than we have in the UK.

Late edit: interview with some of the main actors. It's interesting that one of the actors considers the North Star book the superior one of the two novels. I'll have to track down a copy in translation. At least re-watch the DVD series.