Tuesday 4 June 2024

Defence is not king! Lule Burgas (1912)

A friend of mine writes school textbooks. A few years ago he did one in war and society for the UK history curriculum. I reviewed the chapter on 1750-1914 for him. I thought I was doing him a favour but in fact I caused him a problem. I found two bones of contention in it.

One was the claim that war did not change significantly between 1750 and 1850. Napoleon and Clausewitz might disagree with that.

The other debatable claim was this (I paraphrase): 'the foolish WW1 generals had not learned the lesson of the previous 50 years that, because modern weapons had become so lethal, the defence was king'. I pointed out that (a) the attacker gets to shoot too and (b) the lesson from virtually every war of the previous 50 years was that the attacker wins. The Crimea; Italy in 1859; Denmark in 1864; the ACW; the Austro-Prussian War; the Franco-Prussian War; the Russo-Japanese War and the Balkan Wars, with the latter two being proto-WW1 warfare with WW1 weapons: the attacker wins, the attacker wins, the attacker wins. The difficulty for Paul was that the debatable claim was not his, but he was required to make it because it was actually in the curriculum ...

Which brings us to this week's wargame: Lule Burgas (1912), the fourth in our ongoing campaign from the "Bloody Big Balkan Battles!" scenario book. This was the largest European battle between 1870 and 1914. The attacker won.

The historical situation was that, just four days earlier, the Bulgarians had defeated the Ottomans at Kirkkilise. The battered Ottoman army established a new defensive line at Lule Burgas, but its right flank was open. Ottoman reserves were rushed up to fill the gap and clashed with the Bulgarian 3rd Army, while the Bulgarian 1st Army took Lule Burgas. After a three-day battle, the Ottoman defense caved in and retreated to the fortified lines at Chataldja.

The scenario revolves around four objectives: Lule Burgas itself on the Turkish left; Karagac in the centre; Bunarhisar on the right; and Congara in the rear. Both sides need to hold two of these to draw or three to win. The five annotated photos that follow reveal how the game went.

Looking north up the Turkish lines. Lots of lovely muddy brown rivers, custom-made for me by Rob Owens of Rob's ScenicsA cavalry brigade foot of pic covers the Turkish left. IV Corps is entrenched behind Lule Burgas (the town with the marsh in front of it); I Cps holds the centre; II Cps in the woods. III Cps and XVII & XVIII Provisional Cps are poised to enter top right. Red and white counters mark the four objectives. (Turkish figures are a mix of Irregular Miniatures and Heroics & Ros 6mm.)

View of the same Turkish deployment from the Bulgarian side of the table. The scenario uses a large scale - this 6'x4' table represents a 60km front; it lasts 9 turns with two night intervals, each turn being 6 hours; the armies are both over 100,000 men, so each individual base is 2,000-2,500 men and units are brigades of 6,000-10,000 men. Because of the large scale, there is a simple scenario special rule that fire cannot cross more than one river. This worked rather well.

Halfway through the battle, the Turkish left has been turned. Will, commanding Bulgarian 1st Army, chose to send the Sborna Division south of the River Ergene to outflank the Turkish trenches, while the Sofiyska Div threatened the front. Day 1 was spent moving into position and exchanging inconclusive fire with the defenders in Lule Burgas. This photo on Day 2 shows empty trenches as the Turkish units in them and the town have been routed, leaving Abdullah Pasha alone, embarrassed, and hoping John's finger can bring reserves from the centre in time. (Proxies of proxies: the 'Bulgarians' are actually my Greek army for this conflict, which uses British WW1 figures from Irregular. I'll need a different solution for the 2nd Balkan War battles between Bulgarians and Greeks! Entrenchments and railway also by Irregular.)

Meanwhile, the thin line of Nick's Bulgarian 3rd Army clashes with Dave's Turkish reinforcements in the woods. Bulgarian cavalry hold the Bunahisar objective (foreground); Turks hold Congara (top centre) and Karagac (top right). On Day 1, the wide open space in front of Karagac was a scene of carnage as the Bulgarians advanced into a deadly storm of fire, the survivors falling back at dusk and then shifting their effort further left. At that point, Nick was struggling to see how he could possibly avoid defeat.

The game produced a wonderful climax on the last turn. Both sides held two objectives, which would have meant it was a draw. However, in attempting to capture Bunahisar on their right and to hold and then retake Lule Burgas on their left, the Turks had drawn forces away from their centre, exposing Karagac. Two brigades of the Balkanska and Sofiyska divisions were close enough to assault Karagac, which was held by two Turkish brigades. Bulgarian fire had scrubbed away would-be supporting units and Bulgarian QF artillery wiped out one defending brigade. Both attacking units got the full moves they needed to reach, albeit one of them still in march column. Defensive fire held off the Sofiyska, but the Balkanska assaulted from the march - and emerged victorious! It was a splendid end to a game that at one stage had looked nigh impossible for the Bulgarians.

Reflections:

Blenheim in the Balkans. The battle had a nice shape to it: initial fencing along the front, a turning movement on the Turkish left, then essentially a big fight on each flank that made the Turks thin out their centre and make it vulnerable to the victory blow. Kudos to Will for having the vision four turns earlier to get his Balkanska brigade into march column and race it across the battlefield to where it was needed.

Other plans are possible. As is usually the way, I can see other options for both sides. The Turks could deploy differently with more attention to their left flank and to fields of fire. The Bulgarians could try what seemed an obvious approach at first glance: weight their attack heavily to the left, avoiding most of the dug-in Turks and going for the three village objectives rather than the tougher town. Certainly worth replaying to see how it goes with different plans and different players.

Limiting LOS. I noted in the Kirkkilise report how that similarly large-scale scenario might benefit from some line of sight limit. The scenario special rule here did the job.

Quality tells! All the Bulgarians were rated Aggressive. Most of the Turks were Fragile. On Day 1, while they were mowing down advancing Bulgars, the Turks had the best of it. Once the Bulgarians developed their own firing lines and set up their artillery and started dishing some out, Turkish units evaporated rapidly. And, of course, the quality difference swung it in the final assault.

Nice terrain. Rob Owens's rivers had their second serious outing (their first having been at Kirkkilise). Definitely an improvement on the usual blue felt. Now to attend to the roads, and then the woods ...

What a good game! I embarked on this one with some trepidation. Assaulting against an entrenched enemy with equal numbers of troops and modern weapons? It didn't look too promising. But the space for manoeuvre on both flanks actually enabled a mobile game, and it was a bold dash in the centre that decided it at the end. The shift in fortunes and the epic climax meant the game really told a story.


Thank you to Nick, Will, Dave and John for being engaged and enthusiastic and tackling the challenge in good spirits, and to Konstantinos for a fine scenario.



Thursday 23 May 2024

An Unabashed Success! BBB Bash Day V

On 19 May 2024, some 25+ likeminded souls gathered in Daventry UK to share the love for big nineteenth-century battles. Yes! It was the fifth "Bloody Big Battles!" convention, "Bash Day V".

The first three were held at the home of the Oxford Wargames Society, Wolvercote village hall. Last year, Bash Day headed north for the first time to Leeds. (Report here.) This time, we found an accessible Midlands location in the excellent Battlefield Hobbies wargames store.

Because it is entirely about participation, Bash Day takes quite a lot of administrative effort to ensure we have the right number of games for the number of players expected, and then to assign players to the games they want to play. Mark J did a tremendous job of organising all this, liaising with the venue, keeping gamemasters and players informed at every stage, and adapting when (inevitably) one GM and a couple of players dropped out. In the end, it worked out virtually perfectly: all the games had a suitable number of players and everyone got their two games in (one in the morning, one in the afternoon).

The games were all 19th-century actions from a variety of conflicts:

Hanau (1813), from the forthcoming "Napoleon's Bloody Big BATTLES!" scenario book;

Mudki (1845), from the "Bloody Big Battles in INDIA!" scenario book;

The Alma and Balaclava (1854) (beautiful Crimean War games by Matt Bradley of "Pushing Tin" blog fame);

Brandy Station (1863), largest cavalry battle of the ACW;

Mars-la-Tour (1870), one of the biggest battles of the "imperial phase" of the Franco-Prussian War, a scenario from the BBB rulebook;

Champigny/Villiers (1870), when >50,000 men sortied from Paris during the "republican phase" of the Franco-Prussian War, complete with forts, railway guns and a river gunboat;

Isandlwana (1879), the Zulu War game in 28mm that was so popular at the Colours show so popular at the Colours show last year.


Mustering the troops! Set-up phase, circa 9am. Clockwise from foreground: Brandy Station; Isandlwana; Balaclava; the Alma (top left); Mudki (with players); Mars-la-Tour; Champigny/Villiers (top right); Hanau (centre). Photo courtesy of Mark Jarvis.

These games nicely illustrate how BBB can cope equally well with small actions of a few thousand, like Isandlwana, and with massive battles with 100,000+ men on the field, and can still resolve them in an afternoon. The scales on display varied as well, with 6mm, 10mm and 28mm forces in action. Lots of fine craftsmanship was on show: beautiful armies, gorgeous terrain, not to mention cleverly designed scenarios to create nail-biting finishes.

A bleak, wintry scene outside Paris in 1870. Dense columns of French national guards file out between the Paris forts to attack the German siege lines around Champigny and Villiers. Battlemat and armies from Crispin's collection. The forts are mine, from Peter Pig's ACW riverine range. Nowadays these forts are surrounded by urban Paris, of course. I believe one of them is the headquarters of the Foreign Legion; another hosts a wargames club - must visit some time! Photo courtesy of Mark Jarvis.

The players were a varied and high-calibre lot as well. I have sat across the wargame table from a few numpties in my time, but there were none such here. The clientele that BBB attracts seem universally to be nice smart folks who approach the game in a spirit of historical inquiry and good fellowship. Consequently we had a great crowd. Some were veterans of previous Bash Days; others were experienced BBB players attending for the first time; and then there were the totally new recruits who'd never even played BBB before. Some I had met before in person, others I knew 'virtually' from chatting on wargames forums. We doubled our previous record for female gamers attending (nice to see you, Sarah H and Sarah J!) and the teenage generation was present as well (well played, Will!). Special honourable mention goes to our US participant, Jeff, who arranged his UK holiday so that he could join us in Daventry. It was great to meet so many good people and kindred spirits. Half of us went for a post-battle curry - a precious tradition, as it is always nice to have a social as well as the dice-rolling.

Huge thanks to everyone who made this fantastic day possible: to Battlefield Hobbies for hosting; to the gamemasters for laying on such great games; to all the players, some of whom travelled a long way, for making the trek and for participating in such excellent spirit; and especially to Mark J for all his hard work to make it happen and running it so smoothly.

Before we'd even finished our curry, the guys were already talking about planning the next Bash Day. Date, venue and format to be confirmed, but rest assured it will happen. Bash On!



Wednesday 15 May 2024

Dave's Franco-Prussian birthday party

 Dave Whaley is the soul of BBB. It was he who started the whole BBB journey back in 2009 with "Chris, I'd like to do some Franco-Prussian War games".

Fifteen years on and Dave and I are both a bit older and we have indeed done some FPW games. Last weekend he hosted a birthday party with half a dozen of us. We celebrated his birthday in suitable style with two FPW games from the BBB rulebook, one for the imperial phase of the war (Froeschwiller) and one for the republican phase (Loigny/Poupry), punctuated by a non-FPW-themed curry. Herewith a few captioned photos from the games, then reflections as usual.

French in their "position magnifique" await the German onslaught. The bastion of Froeschwiller itself left edge of pic, facing Woerth at the top. An outpost in Elsasshausen (centre of pic) is backed up by Pelle's 2nd Division of MacMahon's 1st Corps. Figures are 10mm Pendraken from Dave's collection.

View looking south. From the left, Germans of Von Kirchbach's V Korps advance around Woerth. Facing them, the French line the heights in front of Froeschwiller and beyond. Bottom right, the Bavarian 7th Brigade files through Langensulzbach to work its way around the French left flank.

Virgin soldiers! Dave didn't have enough Germans, so his were reinforced by Phil's newly painted troops (the ones with the green tufty bases), being blooded in their first ever on-table outing. Lovely work!

Ably commanded by Crispin, the Bavarians had a good war. Here we see both brigades of the Bavarian 4th Division, having smashed through the zouaves of the French 2nd Bde of 1st Div, catch a brigade of 7th Corps in column of march before it can deploy. This was hurled back and eventually wiped out.

Things didn't go so well for me and Phil on the German centre and left. The German gun line plays a crucial role in this battle. I made the mistake of deploying my guns immediately, which meant they were too far back to be truly effective, so I had to limber them up again and redeploy further forward. That cost us a couple of turns when they should have been firing. That plus some duff rolls when they did fire meant we didn't blast away the French quickly enough. Nevertheless, we still stormed Froeschwiller in time to earn the bonus point for taking it early. But we'd therefore had to leave ourselves a bit weak (and been a bit unlucky) on our left, where Mark's audacious Turcos actually sortied across the River Sauer to deny us a victory point there. This is a scenario where casualties matter as well, so we were trying to kill off French units. The above pic shows a sadly diminished 2-base unit, outnumbered by Germans to its front and enfiladed by Bavarians who've just captured Froeschwiller. The French should have been dead meat. Phil's pink dice for this last roll of the game sum up his day.

Congratulations to Mark and Matt on their victory. We could have beaten them, if only we'd been smarter and luckier. Many real generals could say the same.

On to Loigny, then! Exchanging the poorly commanded but excellent troops of the empire for the better-led raw levies of the republic. This pic shows the massed French forces before we deployed them. Again, Dave's 10mm Pendraken.

View of the eastern half of the table (the French right). I took the part of the French C-in-C, d'Aurelle de Paladines, seen here with 15th Corps as it arrives from the SE corner of the battlefield halfway through the game. Poupry, with its white objective counter, is the village upper centre. From the top right, Hessians and Holsteiners race towards Poupry and the town of Artenay (right edge) - not an objective, but a good place to harass the French from.

Meanwhile, Matt on the French left, as Chanzy commanding 16th Corps, had been doing a great job. He killed off a Bavarian advance guard brigade on day 1 and maintained that advantage on day 2. Here we are looking west across the western half of the battlefield. Chanzy's troops have arrived from left edge of pic and worked their way around the Bavarian right: the troops in the wood to the left and the three groups on the far hill are all French. The beleaguered Bavarians have formed a crochet around Loigny (lower right), where their artillery is losing the firefight. Despite a bold counterattack in the centre by one of Mark's German brigades (out of pic, below bottom edge), Matt's well-handled advance was inexorable and the Bavarians were driven out of Loigny - one objective taken by the French. (Incidentally, in reality the high ground is much less pronounced than these polystyrene cliffs suggest and the gentle slopes are very gentle. See my report of my battlefield tour here.)

And on the right, I managed to get a toehold in Poupry before the Germans could get there, and they never managed to winkle me out. Here we see the Foreign Legion fending off green-jacketed German jaegers. As the French held two of the three objectives, that made it a French win. Hurrah!

Reflections:

There are your guns! As I've remarked before, in 19th-century battles putting your guns in the right place is often critical. My early miscalculation cost us at Froeschwiller.

The scenario option worked. For Froeschwiller, Dave used the scenario option that adds an objective: the Germans have to prevent the French from advancing across the Sauer. This added spice to the last couple of turns as Mark's Turcos tried (with eventual success) to dance around Crispin's left flank.

Same scenario, very different games. Loigny is one of our most-played scenarios. It's easy to set up and there's plenty of movement. Its last outing was in December - report here. That was very different, as both sides converged on the Lumeau objective in the centre, whereas this time all the action was on the flanks. It's a great example of the replay value of historical scenarios that let players explore different plans to see how battles could have gone differently.

I do like 10mm. I'm a committed 6mm adherent as I have built up so many 6mm armies over the decades that it would be a massive task to start again in 10mm. However, I'm very happy to play with Dave's and Phil's 10mm armies. At that scale, you still get the mass effect so the game looks a bit like a battle rather than "a few blokes taking a flag for a walk". But it is also easier to distinguish the uniforms and tell the units apart. Another reason I went with 6mm years ago was that I wanted armies for which figures didn't exist and it was easy to proxy 6mm with a paint job. Nowadays that's no longer such a problem as there's much more choice of figures (and you can still do a lot to 10mm with a paint job). Recommended.

Happy Birthday Dave! It was a great day and a great way to celebrate a good man's birthday. The good news is, the man himself had such a good time, he's already planning a repeat for next year!



Thursday 9 May 2024

Just for fun: an AI review of BBB

Just as a bit of fun, I asked an AI tool:

"What do players like or dislike about the "Bloody Big Battles!" wargames ruleset?"


The AI wargamer. Not to be confused with General Fred C. "AI"nsworth.



Here's what the AI had to say about BBB:


===


While opinions can vary, here are some common likes and dislikes that players have expressed regarding the “Bloody Big Battles!” wargame ruleset:

Likes:

  1. Historical Accuracy:

    Many players appreciate that BBB focuses on large-scale historical battles. The scenarios provided allow them to recreate famous engagements with a degree of accuracy.

  2. Epic Scale:

    The ruleset captures the grandeur of massive battles. Players enjoy commanding large armies, maneuvering divisions, and witnessing sweeping movements across the tabletop.

  3. Scenario Variety:

    BBB offers a range of scenarios, from the American Civil War to European conflicts. This variety keeps gameplay fresh and allows players to explore different historical periods.

  4. Playability:

    Despite the large scale, BBB strives for simplicity. Players appreciate that the rules are easy to learn and don’t bog down the game with excessive complexity.

  5. Generals and Command:

    The inclusion of generals and their impact on command and control adds depth. Players must make strategic decisions based on their leaders’ abilities.

Dislikes:

  1. Lack of Detail:

    Some players find BBB too abstract for their taste. It sacrifices intricate details for the sake of playability, which can disappoint those seeking a more realistic simulation.

  2. Command System Complexity:

    While generals enhance gameplay, the command system can be confusing. Players may struggle to grasp the nuances of command ratings and their effects.

  3. Limited Tactical Depth:

    BBB prioritizes the big picture, but some players miss the tactical intricacies found in other rulesets. Detailed unit interactions and terrain effects are less pronounced.

  4. Balance Challenges:

    Achieving balanced scenarios can be tricky. Historical battles often had inherent imbalances, and translating them into a fair tabletop experience can be a delicate task.

  5. Unit Basing and Movement:

    The 1" base representing 1,500 men can lead to odd formations. Some players dislike the lack of flexibility in unit placement due to fixed base sizes.

Remember that preferences vary, and what one player dislikes, another may enjoy. Ultimately, it’s essential to find a ruleset that aligns with your gaming group’s interests and playstyle . 馃幉馃憤

====

On the "Likes": 1 to 4 seem spot on. Not sure about #5, players having to make strategic decisions "based on their leaders' abilities". Must be confusing BBB with some other game there.

On the "Dislikes": 1, 3 and 4 all have some truth to them. I'd question #2: the command system is pretty simple and clear, isn't it? And #5 is surely confused - BBB is more flexible about representing formations than rulesets that use a single base per unit, if that's the AI's point.

(Can't fault its summary remarks, though - for regular good gaming, you really need likeminded players.)

All in all, it makes me suspect the AI hasn't actually played the game. What do you reckon? I guess it must have read a few of the other posts on this BBBBlog ... Should I see if I can get it down to the club next Monday?

***

For collected reviews of BBB of the old-fashioned kind by analog humans, see here.









Wednesday 1 May 2024

Stitched up at Salamanca

After last week's pride at Klisz贸w comes the fall ...

Mark has pretty much done a whole set of BBB scenarios for the Peninsular War. See, e.g., Colin's report of our Vitoria game in February. This week Mark treated us to another biggie and a battle I know reasonably well: Salamanca.

'Geometry' is a word I seem to use increasingly often in describing the shape of a battle. For all their undoubted subtleties, the one-dimensional straight-line battles so beloved by our ancients tournament-playing comrades at OWS do not excite me. I want angles, salients, open flanks, divided forces, depth, and the resulting complexity and variety of tactical decisions and manoeuvre ...

Salamanca gives us all these things, and that's what makes it such an interesting battle. You could characterise it as an 'L' facing a 'V' that turns into a 'W'. The plan view below helps to explain.


The historical situation saw Marmont's French trying to march past Wellington's right flank to threaten his line of communications. Wellington responded and caught the French extended. In the pic above, the French have come from the top left; their lead divisions (Maucune and Thomi猫res, top right, plus Curto's cavalry) are trying to press on to the Pico de Miranda and the village of Miranda de Azan (just out of shot). Other French divisions have occupied high ground to confront the arriving allies: Foy and Ferey on the heights around Calvarassa; Bonnet on the pivotal Greater Arapil, backed up by Taupin. Together, these form an L-shaped line spread across a large distance.

Wellington's army has arrived in the middle of the L and formed its own V, with its point on the Lesser Arapil and cavalry on each flank. This gives Wellington the advantage of interior lines: it is much easier for him to concentrate his forces against the widely separated French.

The stars indicate objectives: red for British-held, blue for French, white for no initial control. Miranda de Azan is unique in that if French infantry ever hold it, it becomes a kind of high-water mark for them - the objective cannot be taken away from them even if they are expelled. This is Mark's clever game device to represent the fact that the French wanted to advance in that direction and gives the French players an incentive to do so. We French needed three objectives to draw and four to win. 

I commanded the French centre with Luke taking our left and Matt our right. We were facing (allied L-to-R) Phil, Crispin, Dave and Ben. Our initial plan was to hold the three objectives we'd got, plus try to take the Lesser Arapil, but this sort of went out of the window straight away. Just four photos below capture the critical elements of the battle. Reflections follow as usual.


The village of Arapiles, facing our centre-left, the junction of Luke's force and mine. This was immediately occupied by a small Portuguese brigade. Luke decided to send a division to eject this, which it did, but was ejected in turn by an allied counterattack. I found myself obliged to commit two divisions to support Luke. More allied troops were likewise sucked in. Assault and counter-assault raged here for most of the game, until Ben's allied right wing arrived in the French rear to doom us to destruction.

(6mm Baccus figures from Mark's collection, on suitably arid bases for Spain.)

Here we see Ben's and Luke's forces heavily engaged on the French left. Ben had first occupied Miranda and the Pico, then swung left. (Phil and Crispin were doing something similar on the opposite flank, turning the allied V into a W.) Luke's attempt at driving the allies back went awry when his cavalry failed to back up his infantry. It was downhill from there - as in, the French were driven off the ridge, lost all their cavalry and artillery and were seriously battered ... 

Things went a little better for us on the right - but only a little. Matt responded to an allied advance by coming off his ridge and hurling the foe back across the stream. However, he then had to send some troops back to recover Calvarassa from sneaky outflanking Brits. The unit in left foreground is my last division, which I had to send off the Greater Arapil to protect Matt's flank - which unfortunately left the hill unguarded when Crispin was able to march up it.

Last rites: Marmont on the Greater Arapil in the centre, flanked by the remnants of two French divisions, about to be crushed by overwhelming numbers of allies. Another allied brigade is out of shot below the bottom of the pic - it has taken the Greater Arapil and is about to take El Sierro as well. All we have left is Matt hanging on to Calvarassa on our right. Result: emphatic French defeat.

Reflections:

It's a Stitch-Up! Their extended initial deployment inevitably makes the French vulnerable to having their left rolled up, as happened in our game and historically. We couldn't have won anyway!

Make a Plan and Stick to It. Actually maybe we could have won, or drawn at least, if we'd planned and executed better. We didn't need Miranda, the Pico, or Arapiles - we could win without them - but we let ourselves be tempted to chase them anyway, despite our initial discussion about the four objectives we wanted. In retrospect, jumping into Arapiles may have been ill-advised; so may sending troops further left to try to delay Ben's advance; moving off the Greater Arapil didn't work out great either. By contrast, our opponents seemed to have a clear and effective plan. Perhaps it could go better for the French next time. (It couldn't go much worse.)

Upping the Ante. From where I sat, things clearly went from bad to worse in distinct stages. We would attempt something; it would go a bit wrong; we would then have to make a bigger gamble to try to restore the situation; that would go wrong in turn; and so the vicious spiral went down and down. I suppose games (and battles) often go that way, but it has rarely struck me so starkly.


Friday 26 April 2024

A Swedish Leuthen: Klisz贸w (1702), Great Northern War

Hooray! I have reduced the list of battles I'd never heard of by one.

The Great Northern War is a conflict I have never dabbled in before. I knew it was basically Sweden plays Russia, but that's about it. However, I understand it is a particular passion of the great Pete Berry at Baccus. Consequently the Baccus catalogue is well endowed with 6mm figures for it. I believe this range has recently been updated or expanded. Anyway, it got some of my buddies excited enough to build GNW armies. You can see Matt's beautiful new Russians and Poles on his Pushing Tin blog. Meanwhile, Crispin has painted up a very smart Swedish army to oppose them.

Matt is also a prolific scenario designer. He has posted no fewer than eight GNW scenarios in the BBB groups.io files. (NB - you do have to join the group if you want to see these, but it costs nothing and is easy to leave.)

Crispin and Matt therefore laid on the battle of Klisz贸w for us at the Oxford club. This was early in the war. Having repelled the Russians in the first campaign, Charles XII of Sweden turned south against Saxony and Poland. After Charles captured Warsaw, Augustus II of Saxony mustered an army to confront him in a defensive position at Klisz贸w. Despite being outnumbered two to one, the Swedes attacked and defeated the allies. They had to shift left to avoid marshy ground, fend off Saxon and Polish attacks on both wings, then smash the Saxon centre-right.

For our game, I commanded the Swedish infantry in the centre, with Ben taking our left wing and Crispin the right. We were facing Dave, Matt, Mark and Luke.

The allies had to deploy first, after which we Swedes were allowed free deployment in the northern half of the table (so long as we kept our cavalry on their designated wings).Being so heavily outnumbered, yet having to attack, it was imperative that we made an effort to come up with a good plan. Attacking across marshy streams into the teeth of enemy guns didn't seem a great option so, without realising it, we did what Charles did historically and went left, aiming to "do a Leuthen". The allies' deployment helped us, as they'd carelessly left their right flank open to be hit. That was Ben's mission, to brush away the enemy cavalry so that my infantry could then march against the enemy infantry's right. Importantly, we didn't go all in on the left, but kept Crispin's cavalry on our extreme right to pin enemy forces there.

Nine annotated photos tell the story, followed by reflections arising.

The battlefield, looking south. Blue patches are marshy ground. Objectives are denoted by white counters: the Kulaki Heights (the high ground marked by a rough yellow chalk ellipse containing the main Saxon line); the village of Klisz贸w, on the Heights upper right; and the village of Kije, top centre/left. We needed to take one for a draw and two to win. The Heights belong to whoever has most unspent units on them at game end.

There's a lot of cavalry. All the allied units on the flat ground top left are cavalry, as are the two at the other end of their line. The Swedes have three cavalry units on the left wing and two on the right.

Although the Swedes are seriously outnumbered (and have virtually no artillery), they have an important edge in quality. Their troops are almost all Aggressive Veterans, while the Saxon infantry is unremarkable and most of the allied cavalry decidedly inferior. Furthermore, the Swedes get four Generals to the allies' one and all the allies are Passive, which will make it hard for them to react to the Swedish left hook.

Allied cavalry massed in front of Kije. Front left of pic, everyone's favourite - Polish winged hussars. That blue marshy area by the village would prove the undoing of the horse deployed in front of it. Baccus 6mm figures from Matt's collection. Smart unit labels also by Matt.

And a solid Saxon infantry line with a lot of guns on the Kulaki heights. By going left, we managed to avoid most of their fire for the first half of the battle.

Echeloned Swedish infantry from Crispin's newly painted army, poised to attack the seam between the enemy cavalry and infantry. Note the pikes. In this period the Swedish army was less reliant than others on firepower, preferring to use 'G氓 p氓' tactics - roughly, "Get stuck in!".


A monarch's-eye view on Turn 1 as our advance begins. Charles XII commands in person (bottom right). Top left and top right: most of the enemy cavalry have prudently evaded back away from us. Single mounted figures indicate Disrupted units: in the enemy's case, from evading; in ours, from changing direction instead of just marching our lines straight forwards. (Per Matt's GNW rule mods, available from the groups.io files.)

The winged hussars evidently don't believe in evading, preferring to charge Swedish pike. They got their wings clipped.


A couple of turns in and the action is hotting up. I didn't want to tangle with the Saxon infantry until our cavalry had swept away the enemy right, but Mark had other ideas. Bottom right: my righthand infantry unit was pinned down suffering casualties from artillery fire, leaving my upper right unit unsupported. Mark chose that moment to charge out of Kokot (top right), which could have turned out badly for us and rolled up our infantry line, or at least stalled it. Fortunately, a lethal defensive volley stopped Mark's charge. A 'pivotal moment', perhaps?

Next turn, my supporting unit finally arrived in position to beef up my line (centre right). Ben combined with the rest of our infantry to drive the enemy right's horse from the field. The mass of cavalry floundering in the marsh here was unable to extricate itself in an organised fashion and was smashed. The Wallach irregulars fled. (I had to say it: "Never mind the Wallachs".)

Once we'd swept away the enemy right, our infantry dressed their ranks and advanced onto the heights. Mark attempted one more desperate charge to drive us off, but to no avail. More inexorable 'G氓 p氓' cleared the Saxons out of Kokot, while our horse smashed into the Saxon rear, after which it became a mopping-up operation.

What the photos above don't show is the excellent job done by Crispin as General Rehnski枚ld with his mere two cavalry regiments - just 6 bases. These effectively distracted four large enemy units (two cavalry and two infantry) with more than three times their strength (20 bases) for virtually the whole battle. If just one of these had been able to join in against the right flank of our infantry attack, it could have been a different story.

Reflections:

Linear warfare can be fun! In our previous C18 games I have struggled at times, partly because of not being used to the much more constrained manoeuvre, but also because that factor has limited the tactical options and the number of decisions in the game. No such problems this time. On the contrary: manoeuvre limitations were an important factor in our initial plan (both in lining up our forces to head in the right direction from the start, and in capitalising on the defenders facing the wrong way and having trouble reorienting). The situation allowed - indeed, required - both sides to manoeuvre, so there was plenty to do. The result was a distinctly 18th-century feel, quite different from our usual C19 battles, and a downright exhilarating game.

I love it when a plan comes together. On a bustling club night, I'm often too distracted by the social and the occasion to give full attention to either devising a plan or executing it. That's OK - I long ago grew out of caring too much about winning. Still, it was pleasing this time to do a proper appreciation, make a sound plan, and see it through to fruition. As Mark so generously put it, "great to see a well-crafted plan so flawlessly executed". I suppose there are worse people to copy than Frederick the Great.

The dice even out! After his atrocious run of snake-eyes in our previous Kumanovo game, it was good to see Ben's luck change this time.

"G氓 P氓 = Ker-Pow!" (To quote Crispin.) Quality vs quantity and shock vs firepower made for a nice asymmetric match-up. We were all left with a definite impression of ferocious Swedes as Vikings in tricornes. These armies have character.

The terrain shapes the battle. Matt's scenario allows both sides relatively free deployment, but we both ended up unwittingly mimicking the historical set-up and, indeed, broadly following the course of the actual battle. This certainly wasn't intentional on my part - I'd only scanned the history and actually misunderstood where Charles had attacked (I thought he'd culminated by charging straight up the middle, and I didn't see how that could possibly work, hence went for what I thought was a different plan).

Replayability. Our Saxo-Polish foes are now sadder but wiser and would certainly deploy differently next time. That different deployment would no doubt necessitate a different Swedish plan in response. We will surely call on Crispin to roll out his Klisz贸w battlemat again. It will be fascinating to see how the rematch goes.

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Kumanovo (1912) - the calm, then the storm

We progressed to scenario #3 of "Bloody Big Balkan Battles!": Kumanovo. Scenarios 1 & 2 saw the Greeks attack northwards towards Thessaloniki and the Bulgarians attack southwards at Kirkkilise. For #3, the Serbs get in on the act, driving south into Macedonia.

Historically, the Serbian enveloping attack with three corps was pre-empted by an Ottoman attack with a smaller force trying to envelop the Serbian centre before it could join up. It didn't work: the Serbs held, then concentrated and counterattacked next day, and the outnumbered Ottomans were defeated.

The scenario tries to capture this in a 12-turn game divided into two halves by a Night Interval. Both sides start with most of their forces lightly dug-in. The victor has to hold the town of Kumanovo itself plus 3 of the 5 other objective villages. The Turks start in possession of K+3, i.e., enough to win. Thus, they have no real need to advance against dug-in MGs and repeating rifles and superior Serbian artillery, especially when the players had recently experienced how deadly modern weapons are in the first two scenarios. Consequently, in our game, both sides sat tight for the first 6 turns (bar some minor Turkish probes against the Serb right flank), exchanging artillery fire from their earthworks. This didn't bode well for it to be an exciting game.

Then on Turn 7 it all kicked off big-time.

The Serbs had to attack or lose, so once their reinforcements were on the table, they emerged from their trenches. Here we see three big 9,000-man Serb brigades advancing across the plain against Kumanovo (foreground), whose be-fezzed garrison is being pounded by a row of Serb batteries on the opposite hillside (top centre). To the right of the guns, a blue counter marks the Serb-held objective village of Cetirci, of which more later, facing the entrenched Turkish centre (top right of pic). Out of shot top right, three Serb divisions advance to try and take two objective villages on the Turkish right wing.

How did it go? On the Turkish left, dire Serbian dice nullified their massed batteries' attempts to pummel Kumanovo. The Turkish defenders had no such problems and their own batteries and supporting infantry inflicted heavy losses on repeated Serb assault that were ultimately unsuccessful.

On the Turkish right, things went better for the Serbs, who eventually scrubbed away virtually all the Turks in front of them. However, they ran out of time and could not quite reach the now undefended objectives.

In the centre, the Turks actually attacked, trying to take Cetirci. The pic below shows their first assault. The defending Serb brigade was already spent, disrupted and low on ammo from the preliminary exchange of fire. Despite this, they held on, repelling the Turkish assault with heavy losses!

Figures are Irregular Miniatures 6mm (and some Heroics & Ros in the background). Serbs painted by Irregular Miniatures (a service they no longer offer, unfortunately). Turks in the foreground by Dave W; those at the back by me.

But it couldn't last. A fresh Turkish unit followed up and swept the Serbs out of Cetirci. The Turks were then able to press on and roll up the Serb gun line above Kumanovo.

The end result of this most sanguinary struggle was a clear win for the Turks, holding one objective more than they needed for victory.


Reflections:

Don't tamper with the scenario (i). As written, the Serbs deploy first and can be anywhere up to the mid-point of the table (24" in); the Turks can then deploy anywhere in the other half, at least 6" from any Serbs; Turks get to fire first on Turn 1. I felt this could result in the Serbs being "set up" and too easily ambushed by cunning Turkish deployment, so I made the Serbs deploy only up to 12" in instead.

In doing so, maybe I caused the 6-turn calm before the storm. Of course, the Serb players could have taken a cautious option and deployed at a safe distance from potential Turkish ambush. But the incentive to deploy further forward is that it would put them closer to the objectives they need to take. (Then again, it might have made it to easy for them to scour Kumanovo with fire without leaving their rifle pits.) Still, we should probably play it again as written and see if the first few turns are a bit livelier as a result.

Don't tamper with the scenario (ii). The scenario provides a Scenario Option under which an additional Turkish division arrives overnight (one that conceivably could have made it historically but didn't). Looking at the scenario beforehand, I felt the Turks would need that help (plus we had seven players, so more troops was better in terms of people having enough to do), so I decreed that we'd use the Option. Those reinforcements enabled the Turks to counterattack in the centre and may have contributed to holding Kumanovo as well.

Luck plays a part. Ben's dice were comically bad, several sets of snake-eyes at critical junctures, including (I think) once after saying "I can't roll snake-eyes again". This despite swapping dice with other players a couple of times, and they are all the same type from the same bucket anyway. Credit to Ben for keeping his morale high and soldiering on to the end regardless. A couple of different dice rolls could easily have changed the course of the game and produced a different result.

Welcome, Jeremy. We had a visitor from Hong Kong, Jeremy, who we gave command of the Serbian left. We also attached Mark S to his staff as technical advisor, as Jeremy hadn't played BBB much before. We hope to welcome him back as and when his travels bring him back to Oxford.