Tuesday 30 June 2015

Coulmiers, 1870 (Franco-Prussian BBB game)

A rare treat for me - a club night when I didn't set up the game or provide any of the troops etc, I just let my buddies do all the work while I joined in the fun.

Evidently a mixed unit of garde mobile and line infantry

Unfortunately our photographer was busy fighting Zulus at the other end of the hall so no photos of the game. This was the battle of Coulmiers, when the French Army of the Loire set upon half its number of Bavarians under von der Tann near Orleans. Coulmiers didn't make it into the original set of nine "Bloody Big Battles" Franco-Prussian War campaign linked scenarios because of the small size of the German force, but in response to popular demand I wrote a scenario for it. Although players on the BBB Yahoo group have already tried it and evidently got a good game out of it, this was my first playtest of it.

One of the advantages of the small forces involved, and also of the relatively flat and open terrain, is that the game is a quick and simple one to set up. Another is that it is quick to play - so quick, in fact, that three of us managed to fight it twice in three hours. So it is highly recommended for a club night when time is limited.

Basically this is a straight attack-defence situation. A few things add interest. First is just the very different nature of the opposing forces. The French have quantity, but the Germans have quality, and their superior artillery is a major advantage. Because of the French numbers, the Germans will be obliged to maneuver to avoid getting swarmed. And then there is the "wild card" - will one side or the other get a reinforcement unit late in the game? (Possible reinfs include Rebillard's brigade or Lipowski's francs-tireurs for the French, or the Bavarian Leib-Regiment or some of von Wittich's Hessians for the Germans.)

Ludwig samson arthur von und zu der tann-rathsamhausen.png
Ludwig Samson Heinrich Arthur Freiherr von und zu der Tann-Rathsamhausen

Crispin and I were the French team, while our most wily and careful player Mark took the role of von der Tann. In our first game, first we carelessly stumbled into the killing zone of Mark's professionally organised defensive artillery; then, trying to get away from his guns, we split our force north and south, allowing Mark to defeat Chanzy's 16th Corps before the 15th really got into action. The arrival of von Wittich just pounded a redundant nail into an already tightly sealed coffin.

This did highlight a couple of tweaks the scenario needed. One was that the Passive French 15th Corps really struggled too much to get into the game, so we added a General (d'Aurelle de Paladines). the other was that, if the Germans opt not to hold one of their three optional outposts, the French won't have been delayed by it so they get to start 12" on-table.

With these tweaks, our second playtest was a far tighter affair. We took all 3 left-flank objectives and two of the right-flank ones. Given another turn, we might have cleared the Bois de Montpipeau as well. We weren't able to threaten Coulmiers itself, but we had a few goes at it, and given some more fortunate dice at the right time we could have been in with a shout there. So for the last couple of turns we were tied and in with a chance of a victory. The draw was snatched from our grasp with the last dice of the game, when some dastardly Uhlans were able to sneak through one of the (by this time quite large) gaps in the French ranks and recapture one of the objective villages, claiming a German win.

This was a fast-moving and nail-biting game. We're just mulling over final re-calibration of the victory conditions and some other minor changes, and then this will be fit for release into the wild.

[Later edit:]
So that's two defeats to add to my total for 2015. Running tally so far, not counting games I referee:

Games played to conclusion - 18.
Won - 10.
Drawn - 3.
Lost - 7.

Thursday 25 June 2015

In praise of Helion - great for C19 books

Time to say some words in praise of Helion. No, I don't mean Poland's leading publisher of computer books, but Helion & Company, a terrific publisher of military history books, especially on the kind of neglected and obscure topics I love, and a company that gives outstanding personal service. My shelves are creaking under the weight of Helion tomes on some of my favourite conflicts: the Schleswig-Holstein Wars, Austro-Prussian, Franco-Prussian Russo-Turkish ...

This post is prompted because this week a copy of their latest publication dropped through my letterbox. The gem in question is Dusan Babac's "The Serbian Army in the Wars for Independence against Turkey 1876-1878". With my longstanding interest in nineteenth-century Balkan wars, this was a must-buy.

Babac provides the background history and detailed accounts of numerous Serbo-Turkish battles. He also gives exhaustive information on the Serbian army's organisation, weapons and uniforms, flags and medals. The book is absolutely bursting with illustrations, many in colour: contemporary photographs, paintings, woodcuts, as well as modern pictures. The one disappointment for me was the absence of any maps of the battles. That reservation notwithstanding, this is a really excellent book full of hard-to-find information and I consider my money well spent.

I have had a 6mm Serbian army for a long time. It hasn't had many outings. Designing a scenario for the battles around Aleksinac from the First Serbo-Turkish War has been on my agenda since before I published "Bloody Big Battles!", but I haven't quite got round to it. This book will help to change that. 

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Fez and Furashka: Gorlov guns at Katseljevo-Ablava (BBB)

What an excellent way to end a month of wargaming drought! Four of us convened to try my 'Bloody Big Battles' scenario for the battle of Katseljevo-Ablava. This is a Russo-Turkish War action, hence my 'Fez and Furashka' caption, which I hereby offer up to anyone who wants it as a title for their own RTW rules.

The main motivation for writing this scenario was the fact that it is almost the only time that the Russians used a battery of their Gorlov guns - Gatling machineguns - in the field during the RTW. But it turned out to be a very characterful and interesting battle to learn about, and produced a really fun game. The scenario is in the BBB Yahoo group files as usual.

Russian Artillery Gorlov Gun Crew - Click Image to Close
Gorlov gun - available in 28mm from Askari Miniatures
I should pay tribute to my very excellent brother. He it was who for my birthday got me a set of Anton Springer's 7-volume Austrian history of the RTW, bursting with wonderful original maps and detailed accounts of the action. It was the map of Katseljevo-Ablava that alerted me to the presence of the "Mitrailleuse-batterie".

So how did our fight go? (No photos, unfortunately.) Dave as the Russian C-in-C chose to commit forces to a forward defence of Katseljevo. His hope was that this would delay the Turks long enough that they would not have enough time to take the objectives they needed south of the Black Lom river.

Seeing this, Bruce and John as the Turks duly obliged. They chose to mass forces against the exposed Russian advance guard first, before heading for the river. A succession of truly dismal movement rolls meant their 3rd Division took ages to blunder out of the woods, while 1st Div's nizams suffered heavily. At one point we thought a Russian win looked so certain we might be packing up early.

However, fortunes can change swiftly in a BBB game. The gallant defenders of Katseljevo were eventually surrounded and eliminated by the superior Turkish numbers. The Turks then rapidly closed up on the Black Lom in a solid blue line.

Even with the arrival of their reinforcements, the Russians were now down to just two regiments fit to fight. One occcupied Ablava and was sufficient to fend off the Circassians and mustafiz. The other barred the Orendzik road, the Russians' line of retreat, which was also commanded by Russian artillery in redoubts. The final turn; a final Turkish charge. Three Turkish regiments closed in to assault the one Russian, a fight they would surely win, and which would earn them a draw. Could the Russians' firepower save them? A volley of Berdan rifle fire from the infantry; shells rained down from the redoubts; and, crucially, a rattle from the Gorlov guns. The Turks reeled back, their attack failed, and the Russians had won.

(As I only played a minor part commanding the Russian reinforcement regiment, I won't take credit for the win, so this doesn't go on my tally for the year.)

We were all really happy with the game. It had plenty of movement, incident, and change of situation. The scenario seemed almost perfectly balanced, with interesting tactical options for both sides. The only change we thought it needed was the addition of a second General for the Turks. A thorough success, another one under the belt, and now I'm looking forward to some Franco-Bavarian action at Coulmiers next week.

Friday 12 June 2015

Folk dancers 1, Wargamers 0

A bit frustrated this week. Went along to Monday's club night, as listed on the club website, and as confirmed in an email exchange with one of the club officials. Set up our big air battle playtest, 3 moves in, just inflicted the first casualties, when an irascible elderly gentleman ejected us. Apparently on the second Monday of every month the hall belongs to the 17th-century folk dancers, it always has done (presumably since 1650), and this month was no exception.

So our game was cut short and our pub session lengthened, which wasn't all bad, but I am suffering a serious case of wargamer's cold turkey. To be compounded as I can't get a game in again until the 22nd.

But at least for then I have Katseljevo-Ablava to look forward to. This is almost the only action in the Russo-Turkish War in which Gorloff guns were used (Russian Gatlings), so I had to write a "Bloody Big Battles" scenario for it. Looks like an interesting fight in its own right, even without the exotic element, so it should be fun. (Scenario in the BBB Yahoo group files as usual.)

 The map that alerted me to the Gorloff guns at Katseljevo-Ablava

Then looking further ahead, the boys will probably fight Coulmiers (Franco-Prussian BBB) while I'm away; and, prompted partly by some discussion on TMP, I have got enthused about the Wilderness (ACW) and have started work on a scenario for that too.

Final footnote for this week: I don't do FaceBook, but if you do, you might want to check out Konstantinos Travlos's "19th Century Warfare and Wargaming" FB page. This is very new but already becoming a nice resource.

Thursday 4 June 2015

Irish battles

It's nearly two weeks since I last rolled dice in anger. I am getting the shakes. Don't know how I'll last until next Monday. May have to sneak off for a solo quickie ...

On the plus side, the reason is that I've been on holiday, touring round southern Ireland. This was educational for me as Irish history is not one of my strong points. Some highlights:

Waterford: as well as its 'Viking triangle', it boasts a statue of its famous son, Thomas Francis Meagher. Yes, that Meagher, the one who had a hand in designing the Flag of Ireland, was convicted and transported to Tasmania, escaped to the USA, and recruited and led the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War.

Kinsale: Charles Fort. Perfectly preserved C17 star fort, with a decent little museum. Built some decades after the Siege and Battle of Kinsale (1601) which were decisive in completing the English conquest of the island of Ireland, the fort featured in the Williamite conflict in the 1690s and also in the Irish civil war in 1922.

Baltimore (the original one): pretty little fishing village right at the SW corner of Ireland. Something of a tourist hotspot these days. Notable for receiving some very undesirable tourists in 1631 when Barbary corsairs raided and took over 100 inhabitants as slaves. Supposedly the pub we stayed in used to hide IRA weapons under its floor.

Enniscorthy: Battle of Vinegar Hill.
Pic from here
So I vaguely knew that there had been a rebellion in Ireland in the 1790s but I hadn't appreciated the scale of it. There were French landings to aid the rebels but these were rather small. The major battle at Vinegar Hill, in County Wexford, saw an unaided Irish army of 20-30,000 defeated by about 15-20,000 Crown forces. This is certainly large enough to be worth looking into as a potential Bloody Big Battles! scenario. It prompted me to do some browsing to see what other wargamers have already done with it (because of course, however obscure the action, some wargamer somewhere will have given it a go). I was delighted to find that just last month the battle was thoroughly explored by these brave boys at SAS Wargames . Great to see such enthusiasm and dedication. Inspiring!