Saturday, 20 July 2019

Against the Grain

Those of you with long memories might remember some grumblings here about colonialism, and the potential colonialism of wargaming. What I seem to have meant by that was that we lump all these non-Europeans into a similar sort of category. Thus, possibly, in some rule sets African tribes look similar to Siberians and Aztecs. As noted recently, these armies seldom evolve very much, by these same rule sets. Occasionally they might grow firearms units, of course, or even ships armed with cannons, but that is only under the influence of those colonial powers who brought enlightenment to the natives.

I exaggerate, of course, but possibly not as much as we might be comfortable with. There is also the problem, allied to all this, that history has a tendency to be written by victors and, in the world of colonialism from the beginning to the end, this tends to be the ‘white man’. The expression is chosen carefully, for both the whiteness and the maleness of the person chronicling the period and place is, in general, significant. This has implications for how we (in the broadest sense) understand history.

As you might imagine, I have not come up with this on my own. I have been reading some historical theory (more of that another time, perhaps) part of which has been this book:

Majumdar, R. (2010). Writing Postcolonial History. London, Bloomsbury Academic.

Postcolonial history, according to Majumdar, arose from dissatisfactions with the historiography which arose during and after the processes of decolonisation. Before decolonisation (roughly speaking the period from 1950-1970, but the time frame varies according to point of view and geography) history was dominated by the European viewpoint, as put forward by the white male writer. Thus, civilisation was brought to the unenlightened masses by such things as the rifle, machine gun, railway, international trade, education and so on. In some places, even educated (in the Western system) natives were permitted to work in the lower echelons of the governmental system (overseen by reliable people, of course: white males) in the pious hope that they may, someday in the future, be able to run the affairs of the colony for themselves. This would, presumably, have to be overseen by the colonial power, and anyway, for a lot of nationalists at the time, seemed to be an ever-receding target.

Decolonisation, in the British part of the world anyway, was a consequence of World War Two and impending bankruptcy. Historiography immediately post-decolonisation tended to become anti-colonial and nationalist. Local historians bemoaned the arresting of indigenous development, culture and society by the alien impositions (while, it has to be said, often benefitting from them themselves in university posts). It was not too long, however, before a reaction to this reaction started, and this is known as post-colonialism; its historical outworking is postcolonial history.

Postcolonial history defines itself (as far as anything of this nature is defined) as against anti-colonial history. It notes that colonialism had a great impact on the colonised, but also had some impact on the coloniser and the metropolitan colonial power, and sets out to chart this sort of relationship. The relative power of the colony and metropole might well be different, but postcolonial history argues that the colonised were not wholly powerless, and could often succeed against the coloniser.

As history is, usually, both recorded and written by the more powerful, the postcolonial historian has to work a bit harder to obtain their materials. This means that they have to read against the grain of historical records and texts to recover the agency of the colonised. Once this is done, in some cases a startling new history of the country can emerge, one where the (after all, heavily outnumbered) colonists had to tread carefully to negotiate their sometimes fragile (or non-existent) power.

A lot of postcolonial history focusses on India, but I thought I would try to draw some attention to another case where the historical records have to be read against the grain. This is Ross Hassig’s account of the conquest of Mexico, where he re-reads the accounts (which are mostly by Europeans) to reconstruct what was really happening in the early sixteenth century in Central America:

Hassig, R., 'War, Politics and the Conquest of Mexico', in Black, J. (ed.), War in the Early Modern World 1450 - 1815 (London: UCL Press, 1999), 207-235.

Hassig notes that there are two narratives of the conquest. The first is the triumph, against overwhelming odds, of the brave white man against a barbarian, bloodthirsty, pagan empire. This is the story we get from a surface reading of the texts we have available, the overwhelming majority of which are Spanish. Hassig notes that many of the reports sent back to Spain have elements of self-serving bias; the conquistadors were attempting to justify their new found wealth and power.

The second narrative emerges when we read against the grain. For example, Cortes took a detour on his way to Tenochtitlan, to Cholollan, where he conducted a massacre. Hassig notes that the Spanish had no reason to go there, so why did they bother? The answer is that Cholollan had recently deserted the Tlaxcallan alliance, and the massacre eliminated the ruling elite. Tlaxcalla could now control the selection of a new king. This event also led to Cortes overestimating his significance in Central America.

Similarly, Hassig observes that tens of thousands of Indian allies joined five hundred Spanish in the siege of Tenochtitlan, and thousands of canoes joined the thirteen brigantines on the lake. Who then had the most significant force? Who was really in control here?

Of course, many other factors – famine, disease and the Spanish view of what they were doing – played a part as well. But for wargaming the important part is that the Spanish numbers were never more than one per cent of the total. They were shock troops, regarded as expendable by the Tlaxcallans, who could break the enemy line and leave it exposed to exploitation by the Tlaxcallan forces. Hassig suggests that both sides recognised this and sought an alliance as a result.

So, postcolonial history should be a part of wargaming historiography. I am currently rebasing my Aztec forces, but I think that I will need to write my own set of rules as in most that I have seen the Spanish are massively over-represented in both numbers and effectiveness.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Circa Cerignola

The next approximate battle in the Italian Wars should be, of course, Fornovo. But Fornovo is first, probably somewhat beyond my current abilities, and second, it was rather a complex battle and not one in which the rapidly changing Spanish forces were involved.

Let me, therefore, fast forward to Cerignola (28th April 1503) for my next trick. The Spanish were behind some entrenchment, armed with pikes, firearms, crossbows and cannon. The French had gendarmes, Swiss pikes and their skirmishing crossbowmen, which seem to have been mainly around to make up the numbers. The Spanish jinites were deployed in front of the entrenchments, and seem to have obscured the view of the French and Swiss. On the other hand, neither the French nor the Swiss seemed to be much in the mood for scouting; they did have light horse, but they don’t seem to have been used. The Spanish men-at-arms were held in reserve.

So far as I can establish (which may not be far, of course) the Spanish had 700 men-at-arms, 800 jinites, 1000 arquebusiers, 2000 Landsknechts and 1000 ‘other’ foot, along with 20 cannon. The French had 650 gendarmes, 1100 light horse, 3500 Swiss and 2500 – 3500 French infantry, along with 40 cannon which did not arrive in time for the battle (probably a good thing for the Spanish).

Here, I hit a rule development. Normally (in DBR and, indeed, in Polemos: SPQR) skirmishers are regarded as being rather few in number. If you regard the French infantry as being mostly skirmishing crossbowmen, then at 75 men per base, you get between 33 and 47 bases. This is rather a lot of bases and would take up a large quantity of table room. My view of skirmishers has evolved, and so I have incorporated them in the normal 1:500 ratio which I try to use for foot (1:250 for the horse, by the way). Those of you with long, long memories will recall that the model for skirmishing is a base unit with small groups sent out to discharge their weapons. The base marks the location of the base unit. I can thus reduce the number of French infantry to a more reasonable 5 bases of skirmishing crossbows.

The forces on the table are, therefore:
Spanish: 3 men-at-arms, 3 jinites, 2 arquebusiers, 4 pike, 2 ‘others’, which I am interpreting as a crossbow base and a sword and buckler base. They also have 2 cannon bases.
French: 3 gendarmes, 4 light horse (a mix of mounted crossbows and stradoit), 7 Swiss pike and 5 skirmishing crossbows or pike for the French infantry.

The set up is shown in the photograph.

The Spanish are to the left, behind their entrenchments, at the foot of a vine-strewn hill, upon which the cannon are placed. The jinites are in front of the entrenchments, nervously eyeing the gendarmes and Swiss. The French light horse and crossbowmen bring up the rear.

From behind Spanish lines, it looked like this.

One of the Spanish cannons is the out of focus blob to the right, and you can see the line of jinites in front of the French and Swiss. Behind them are the rest of the French army, who turned out not to be particularly interested in the proceedings.

In the real battle, the French gendarmes and the Swiss simply charged and the gendarmes discovered the ditch and bank first. Under heavy fire, Nemours attempted to find a way across and was killed by an arquebus ball. The Swiss arrived and did little better. Once the French and Swiss were bogged down, Cordoba ordered a counter-attack and they fled.

In my battle, things were slightly different, but only a bit. The French gendarmes managed to hit the jinites without being disrupted by the skirmishing and swept them away. However, they then found that cavalry against manned entrenchments only goes one way. They did, very briefly, gain a slight hold on the top, having forced back the Spanish sword and buckler men, but it didn’t last. Turning left, the gendarmes sought a way around (a bit late, you might think). Nemours survived, but the gendarmes were hit in the flank by the Spanish men-at-arms and routed, including the general who, this time, seems to have perished at the point of a lance (I’m sure that is more honourable than a musket ball).

The Swiss then attacked and fared rather worse. In fact, their approach was disrupted by the cannons on the hill and some of them never got into action. In these rules, it seems, cannon are rarely decisive but often disruptive. The Spanish were on the receiving end of this in the Guisborough fight in the Armada campaign, you might remember.

The end of the battle looked like this.

The remaining French gendarmes are all fleeing, while the Swiss are either routing, halted under fire or being ‘staggered’ by cannons. The French crossbowmen and light horse have not really been ordered to do much, due to the general being too busy charging and then incapacitated.

So, once again, history roughly repeated itself. It did get me wondering, however, about bias and, indeed, whether the battle was even possibly winnable for the French in its original form. Waiting for the next day and their cannon to arrive would probably have been a favourite option. Alternatively, working around the flanks could have worked. As Spanish commander, I was a little concerned about all those skirmishing light horse, especially after most of my jinites had been dispersed.

I suppose that cavalry against manned entrenchments, especially when the entrenched side have firearms and crossbows (the rules do not, at present, distinguish) was never going to be an easy match up, and nor were Swiss against the same thing. The historical outcome probably speaks volumes about the usefulness or otherwise of chivalry and rash bravery against ranged weapons in prepared positions, but then that is a lesson which many nations have had to learn the hard way.

I was, however, quite pleased with the rules and how they worked. The next battle is, of course, Garigliano, but that is a sprawling, complex battle. Having tested the rules in two semi-historical battles now, I might try a different time and part of the world.

Saturday, 6 July 2019


 As noted last time, I have a wide variety of early modern armies to choose from as a result of the rebasing project. Given my predilection these days not to simply conduct ‘line both sides up and charge’ types of battles, I feel the need for some narratives to push the stories of the campaigns along. Each set of armies, therefore, need a theme, a running story like the Armada campaign (the next battle for which is on the cards, sometime) or young Alexander’s adventures.

The sad fact is that I am all out of stories at the moment. My reading lately has been a bit too lacking in military themes for my own comfort, perhaps, but I really cannot, at present, connect with any ideas that I might have come up with. For example, I thought about redoing my Invasion of Korea campaign from many years ago, but that might entail buying and reading at least one book on the topic, and I have a shelfful to get through already. Indeed, I and the Estimable Mrs P. have agreed to a three-month moratorium on purchasing books while we tackle our backlogs.

Being, therefore, thrown back upon my resources as a historical wargamer, and in the light of reading about Isabella of Castile, I pondered a narrative about the Granada campaign, but I could not get excited about that.  But something about the Spanish intrigued me, so I dusted off my trusty Oman and started to read. Slowly a battle came to mind, a historical one at that. I would try my hand at Seminaria.

I dare say that I do not need to introduce the battle to my audience, but I’m not going to let that stop me. This was, more or less, the first action of the Italian Wars and was heavily lost by the Neapolitans and their allies, the Spanish. Oman has about half a page on the battle. I consulted Peter Sides’ ‘Renaissance Battles Volume I’ but discovered, I’m afraid, a bit of a dog’s breakfast. Sides, it seems, was led astray by the DBR lists for the army. Oman’s account definitely refers to jinites; Sides’ Spanish have no such thing, at least that I could find.

Wikipedia (purists may shudder, but it can be fairly reliable when all else fails) reckoned up the forces involved more accurately (perhaps; as is often the case, the sources are unclear) but still left a lot of wriggle room for exactly how many Neapolitan militia were present, and how many French (as opposed to Swiss) infantry were there. I have commented before that historians tend not to worry overmuch about such holes in the data, but wargamers do.

The numbers, according to Wikipedia consisted of 600 lances for the Spanish (careful; this does not mean men at arms), 1500 sword and buckler men, 3500 sailors, 6000 Calabrians and an unknown number of Neapolitans. All of this was less men left in garrison. The French had 400 gendarmes, 800 light horse, 800 Swiss pikes and an unknown number of French infantry. The armies both deployed with a centre and a wing of horse, which faced each other. I have no idea why the other wing was not similarly en-horsed. It might have been terrain, but the sources only mention a stream between the lines.

Anyway, some desperate counting of bases of figures and working out a few bits of ratios led me to the following orders of battle:

Spanish – Neapolitan: 2 jinites, 3 sword and buckler, 7 crossbowmen (sailors), 4 crossbowmen (Neapolitan), 8 militia (Neapolitan / Calabrian).

French: 2 gendarmes, 2 mounted crossbow, 4 Swiss pikes, 10 crossbowmen, 1 stradoit, 2 pikes (French). The gendarmes and Swiss are elite.

I confess I have no real idea as to how these map onto reality (hence the title of the post), but then, no-one else will either. It is also slightly juggled with to fit my resources, especially in crossbowmen. All the crossbows, incidentally, count as skirmishers. The Spanish sailors are deployed as crossbowmen largely because of a comment in McNeil about the adaption of crossbows on Spanish and Portuguese ships of the time.

Anyway, the deployment looked like this:

The Spanish / Neapolitans are to the right, the French to the left. The French were to attack with the gendarmes and Swiss (on their left). The Spanish were hoping to disrupt enough with their crossbowmen before contact was made, and to entertain the gendarmes with the jinites (on their far right). As one of the reasons the Spanish – Neapolitans lost seems to have been that the militia interpreted the backwards, skirmishing, behaviour of the jinites as fleeing, and followed suit, each time a Spanish base moved backwards the militia were to roll two dice, one positive and one negative. On a negative result, they fled.

The end game is here:

With the exception of one shaken base of crossbowmen, the Spanish centre is fleeing. Remarkably, the militia are still holding firm, but as the French have not bothered to attack them, perhaps this is less of a surprise. On the other hand, they survived a lot of matched rolls. The skirmishing crossbowmen managed to inflict precisely no damage on the Swiss except for a slightly disruptive halt result (which is why the fourth Swiss base is behind the rest). The jinites have done their job, but it has not helped the rest of the army. The Spanish – Neapolitan morale was still good, but it was clear they had lost.

So, this turned into a splendid, historical result. Seminaria was Gonzalo de Cordoba’s (aka ‘the Great Captain) ‘most disastrous’ battle and caused a rethink of the Spanish military. Certainly, the Spanish had little reply to elite Swiss pike here.

So, what next?


‘Sire, we have lost, and lost badly.’

‘I did notice.’

‘Those northern barbarians are wild men, sire.’

‘Agreed. We need to do something about that.’

‘Do you have an idea, sire?’

‘Yes. We need to change things, clearly. I sense…’ Sudden thunder rumbled from a clear blue Italian sky. ‘I sense a military revolution coming on.’

Saturday, 29 June 2019

There… And Back Again

My loyal reader (for there may be one) might recall that my world wargaming rebasing project seems to have stalled with the Manchu. In fact, this is not the case, and rebasing of my old, old figures has been proceeding apace. Well, not quite apace, but with reasonable alacrity, for me, anyway.

So to start off with, I have done the Koreans, and already written a blog post about them, so here they are:

You might object that they need some more firearms, and you would be correct. However, given that the musket armed unit are pinched from the Chinese anyway, they can gain reinforcements from either there or the South East Asian, of whom more anon. The figures are Irregular, the army composition DBR. The infantry formation seems to be correct from the paper I read and reported on a while ago.

Next up, we reach the furthest east, and more familiar wargame territory, Japan. The Samurai are the sorts of wargamer’s army that everyone seems to like. Whether it is the different but similar warrior code, assorted films or who knows what else I have no idea. But popular they are.

Again the figures here are irregular; I seem to need some more cavalry. There are enough troops here for three Samurai DBR armies at 100 AP, and I have fond memories of leading them to an epic defeat against a mix of Korean, Ming and Manchu foes, where the main problem was that after the first battle the Samurai had lost their cavalry, which meant their scouting was negligible and that they had no real answer to the Korean and Ming cavalry. I didn’t even know the Manchu were on their way until they appeared on the table of the last battle, where the remnants of the invaders were already holding out against the odds.

Heading back towards the Occident, the next encounter is in South East Asia, a surprisingly under-represented era of wargaming. Full on warfare with colourful armies and elephants. What more could a wargamer want? All right, there is a bit of a dearth of information about what actually happened, but when has that stopped any wargame? The only thing I can say is that, as with India, the use of the elephant was being reduced as they do not like firearms (sensible creature, your elephant, really) and it was difficult to train them to tolerate them. Anyway, Irregular Miniatures again, cobbled together from various ranges.

I have to say I do wonder about the Burmese elephants (at the back of the elephant column in the picture). Somehow Irregular has crammed 12 troops onto one platform. I know Burmese nellies are reported as having up to sixteen crew, but if I were an elephant with that many people on board, I think I would at least go on strike for more pay, if not suck up a mix of water and mud (and, possibly, other things, it would depend on annoyance levels) and spray the humans until they got off.

Next across are the Indians, but I have already covered them, so moving swiftly on we have an assortment of Arabians and North Africans. I think this lot should represent more or less any army from Oman to Morocco, but I do have my doubts. I am also hoping they might double up as Grenadines for the last stages of the Reconquista but again, I would have to think about it.

The Taureg are the scary heavy camels to the left of the picture. The North Africans also have a few Janissaries as they got garrisons from the Ottomans when they assumed suzerainty. Again, these are Irregular figures, cobbled together from assorted medieval and colonial ranges, Fuzzy-Wuzzies in particular, I think.

Being nearly back to the west, we have to divide into various time streams. It has to be admitted that Western armies, in wargame terms (if not in overall historiography, although I suspect it is similar) are allowed to evolve, while non-Western armies are pretty well static. The truth is, of course, Western armies and societies have been studied in detail, while the rest have been lumped into one era or another. So, first up are the Italian Wars, Irregular figures plus some Heroics and Ros.

Here we have extensive numbers of gendarmes, Swiss pike and crossbowmen, alongside a few other things such as jinites, stradoit and the odd arquebusier. Some of these had been rebased before for the Armada campaign, I admit. But who is quibbling?

Hanging around in the Sixteenth Century still, I have some English (bill and bow style units, with Border Horse), some longbows and dismounted knights (H&R figures), demi-lancers and mid-century foot. These tend to be used rather ad-hoc (as the originals were, in fact), and those of you who were interested might have seen some of them in action in the Armada campaign games.

Shifting into the Seventeenth Century, we reach what are probably my oldest 6 mm figures, which are Irregular Miniatures from the mid-1990s, for the English Civil War. The ECW was my first main focus of wargaming when I was a lad, so when I returned it seemed like the obvious thing to do.

As the picture shows there are quite a lot of these. I think I just kept on buying and painting before I moved out into other parts of the ‘Renaissance’ wargame world. The three rows at the back on each wing, incidentally, are dragoons, and the rearmost infantry regiment is from the Irregular ‘restoration’ range, so a tiny bit later. But I’m all for variety.

For those of you falling asleep in the parade, I’m nearly done. Next up is the artillery park. I like guns, and I still have a few more to re-base.

This lot are all Irregular, except for some Baccus stunt crew members, and stand in for artillery of all nations and periods. I have some mortars and battalion guns to paint as well, and a few Heroics and Ros artillery pieces to base up. I doubt if I could ever deploy this lot all at once, however, and artillery were not the most useful part of a field army.

Finally, we have the Scots, so we are now at another extremity of the world. These are a bit more of a work in progress, having been painted and rebased for the Armada campaign. I am aware of the lack of musketeers for the ECW period, and also that not all Scottish cavalry were lancers. The highlanders are a mix of Baccus and Irregular, the rest are Baccus, but not the latest style releases. You can’t have (or paint) everything.

Now, in case you were thinking that that was everything, my former self was more industrious that you might believe (or I can, either). There are still hordes of Aztecs and their foes and Inca in my drawers (ooh, er, missus), and War of Spanish Succession and Great Northern Wars in a box. The latter are a bit muddled up, so will require some sorting. I also have some more ships and a load of Renaissance galleys which will need sorting, rebasing and repairing.

A wargamer’s work is never done, but now I think I would like to manage some actual wargames. Is it too much to ask?

Saturday, 22 June 2019


I suppose that every historiographical lash has its backlash. I mentioned before, I think (and anyway, it is “widely known”) that the interpretations of the English Civil War (War of the Three Kingdoms and Wales, whatever you want to call it) have been heavily influenced by Marxist interpretations of history. Thus the war is seen squarely as to do with the rise of the gentry/bourgeoisie, the merchants, lawyers and so on who dominated Parliament, the defying of feudal assumptions about society and, ultimately, the rise of the political voice of the peasants and working class, seen through the Levellers, Diggers, Quakers and so on.

Now, of course, this narrative can be challenged and has been, at almost every turn. Quite a few of the Parliamentarians were from ancient ‘feudal’ families, for example. A fair number of Royalist supporting MPs were merchants and lawyers. The emphasis placed on the Diggers and their colleagues is not representative of the mass of the labouring poor; indeed, the leaders of these sects were hardly representative of anyone except themselves.

The historiographical upshot of this has been a ‘revisionist’ history for the wars, with a far greater emphasis on the individual, their decisions and historical contingency. Thus, a great deal of the blame for the chaos of the 1640s has been placed on the King, Charles I, and his decisions (or, more precisely, his lack thereof), vacillations, plotting and  general untrustworthiness which eventually led his opponents to cut, as it were, the Gordian Knot and remove his head. But really can the King really be blamed for the whole crisis and its nasty dénouements?

There has been, in perhaps more popular works anyway, a move towards blaming other people again. As I noted a while ago, Leander de Lisle ((2018) White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr. London, Chatto & Windus) places the blame on the group of London politicians who opposed the King, including Pym and Warwick, who had been in traitorous correspondence with the Scots during the Bishop’s Wars and needed the war to cover their tracks. Well, maybe, but perhaps we need to track back a bit before that; Charles’ personal rule had not, after all, been spectacularly successful.

I have just finished another work which blames another set of people:

Thomson, O. (2018). Zealots: How a Group of Scottish Conspirators Unleashed Half a Century of War in Britain. Stroud, Amberley.

The subtitle says it all really. The book argues that a set of lairds and ministers in Fife started the whole disaster that befell Britain in the middle of the Seventeenth Century. Fife, the author points out, had good connections to the continent, particularly to the Danish and Swedish parts of Northern Europe. A number of mercenaries, particularly retirees from Swedish service, also bought land there or thereabouts and formed connections with local politicians and Kirk leaders.

The upshot of this was that when the Scots, particularly the Kirk leaders, felt the heat from the King and his ministers over the new Scottish Prayer Book in 1637, there was a ready-made set of radical ministers, politicians and professional soldiers in Fife to start a war and to win the first few bits thereof – that is, the two Bishop’s Wars and the First English Civil War, up to and including Marston Moor. After that, of course, the Scots lost, and lost, in the long run, rather heavily.

Now, I am not going particularly to get into the blame game. Lots of candidates can be named as culprits in starting the wars, as well as a fair few broader factors such as the real economic distress of the series of poor harvests. Drawing attention to one or another particular group is helpful but not necessarily as decisive as some authors seem to think. In starting a war, or a struggle for independence, or the traditional way of life, or whatever, there has to be an opponent, and that opponent contributes to the conflict by their actions, for good or ill, as well.

Still, Tomson does do a few useful things in drawing our attention to the Fife connections of the Army of the Covenant: a fair few chaplains and commanders at Marston Moor came from the area. In addition, he does draw attention to the importance of religion as a determining factor. He sees the civil wars are being largely motivated by differing visions of Protestantism, the Anglican (or more specifically, perhaps, the Laudian), the Presbyterian, as put forward by the Scots as the settlement for the whole of the country, and, ultimately, the Independent, non-conformist ideas that sort of triumphed under Cromwell (and sort of did not).

Thomson suggests quite strongly that the Presbyterian vision of the Kirk continued through into the 1680s leading to the persecution of various sects in Scotland after the Restoration, assorted armed uprisings and further fighting. Only with the ‘Glorious Revolution’ did a degree of stability return, except, perhaps in the Highlands. James II had, after all, worked hard to create a party there loyal to himself, and this was the start of the Jacobites who, of course, went down to disaster in 1715 and 1745.

Thomson notes that the Jacobites mad the same mistake as the Scots in 1648 and 1651 by invading England via the western route. The successful Scots invasions of the Bishop’s Wars and first civil war were via the eastern route. The implication seems to be that if Bonnie Prince Charlie had been sufficiently on the ball, the Jacobites would have aimed for Newcastle and then York, and succeeded. Well, maybe, and maybe not. It would require a number of conditions to be met, such as Berwick, Newcastle and York to be either undefended or ignorable. The Jacobites, so far as I am aware, did not have the men to both continue the invasion and lay siege to Newcastle, as Leven did. But then, I am not a Jacobite expert.

Overall, this is an interesting book which gives a partial account of the civil wars from a Scottish perspective. Is it convincing? Well, I think at best we can say case unproven but if it provokes some more work on the subject it will have done its job.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Models and Targets

Here, as they say, he goes again. I have been saying for quite some time that wargames rules, and associated figures and terrain, are models or, strictly speaking, sets of models. To that end (among others) I have been reading this weighty academic tome:

Weisberg, M., Simulation and Similarity (Oxford: OUP, 2015).

Now, Weisberg’s book is a discussion of the role of models in science, mostly, and, as such, turns on a number of distinctions which might not apply to a wargame. However, I think the overall description of models that Weisberg comes up with does apply, and I also think that there is some assistance in the book with regard to some of the things about models and wargames which have puzzled me recently.

Overall, Weisberg describes a model as being one end of a system, the other end being the target, the real world object being modelled. Thus, in the Bohr model of the atom, the model is the mathematics and concepts associated with it. The target is the real world hydrogen atom and its spectrum. Similarly, in the predator-prey system, the model is the linked differential equations and the real world target is the number of foxes and rabbits (or whatever). Finally, of course, a model of the battle of Waterloo has the historical event as its target.

Weisberg proposes that there is a similarity function between a model and its target. That is, the modeller tries to maximise the overlap between the phenomena the target possesses and those which are part of the model. The modeller also tries to reduce the number of structures in the model which have no real-world equivalent. They may also, in due course, make the model more complex to represent more features of the target, of course.

I have noted before how this tends to happen in physics, specifically atomic structure calculations. The model is created and results calculated. Broad agreement, say with the energy levels of carbon, are found, but then fine structure is incorporated by considering electron spin-orbit coupling, and then hyperfine structure and so on. A broad brush model is refined to something that really quite closely resembles the target through a process of refinement.

In wargaming, of course, things are not quite so simple or predictable. There is only one historical incident which we can call the Battle of Waterloo. We can, and do develop many sets of models for this target, but each model will (or may) emphasise different elements of the known elements of the target. Thus a model developed by someone with an interest in artillery may well differ from someone who believes that cavalry were the decisive arm. If we add to this the variety of background assumptions that have to come with any model (for example, most sets of wargame rules rely on arithmetic, geometry and the fact that cannon-balls move in a straight line) then we can land up with a complex set of complex models, all of which purportedly target the same historical event.

The practical upshot of this seems to me to be that there is never going to be a perfect set of wargame rules. This, to most wargamers, is hardly likely to be a startling revelation, but hopefully it might give some of the evangelists for one rule set or another pause for thought. The point here is that different models (even in the sciences) pick out different phenomena as the important ones to simulate. Some others, which other people might think are important, fall by the wayside. Thus the grounds for many a dispute over rules and interpretations are laid.

It is possible to have a model system which has no specific real-world target. Thus, for example, Richard Feynman famously modelled a perpetual motion machine. Naturally, everyone knows that such machines are impossible; there is no target real-world system in this case. What is interesting for this is why the machine is impossible. The model, however, still has no target.

I wonder if this might be the answer to my question of a few posts ago about ‘historical’ wargames without historical armies or events. For that matter, it could also be the answer to what fantasy and science-fiction wargames are about. These are certainly models or sets of models. They satisfy the criteria for being a wargame – figures, terrain, rules and so on. However, there is no real-world target for them. In this sense, then, they are exactly target less models.

A target less model is not necessarily a bad thing, as the Feynman example tells us. It provides some insight into how the world works, even if the upshot is that the world does not work like that. A wargame of a generalised Napoleonic battle may still generate insights into how Napoleonic warfare proceeded, and why some things happened as they did. Of course, it is a little more difficult to see this in fantasy and science fiction wargames, although some things (like basic physics) remain the same. I was once helping out creating a set of science fiction rules and got into an argument about why laser weapons were not subject to the inverse square law of diminishing effectiveness. Sadly for those why tried telling me I was wrong, I do actually know what I am talking about here.

Still, most fantasy and science fiction wargames are based on some aspects of real life. The best fiction in the genres is actually related to the world as it is (or was when the work was written). That, of course, raises the rather ghastly concept of the Warhammer universe being a comment on the ways politics have been developing in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This may be hard to imagine, perhaps, but also alarmingly possible.

Anyway, I think that the answer to my question of a few posts ago is this: my wargame was a model, but had no real-world target. That does not invalidate the model, of course, but in my case, as a historical wargamer, I probably need to use real-world targets to check that validity.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

The Mughal Empire at War

My loyal reader will have noted recently an emphasis on interest in South Asia, the Indian sub-continent and points allied to it. You might also recall a certain confusion arising from reading Gommon’s book and pondering the role of horse archer in the region. Complexity adds to complexity as we discover that, really, there is very little written about military history in South Asia, at least before the colonial period.

This book:

de la Garza, A., The Mughal Empire at War: Barbur, Akbar and the Indian Military Revolution 1500 - 1605 (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017)

Is a recent addition to my library and is a most useful tome in trying to work out what might be going on in the period. De La Garza’s point is that military history in South Asia has missed out the whole ‘drums and trumpets’ bit of historiography which underpins much of the more recent work on the subject in the west. In short, there is no Oman or Delbruk for India. Recent work on the military in South Asia, therefore, focusses on more war and society type studies and entirely misses out the purposes for which armies were constituted in the first place. There are few, if any, studies of battles before the rise of the East India Company in the eighteenth century.

De La Garza’s work, therefore, is to try to unpack a little about the battles the earlier Mughals fought, how they evolved, and something of the tactics that were used. As such, it constitutes an extremely useful book for a wargamer, discussing all those messy and unpleasant bits of warfare (like battles, wounds, firepower and so on) which contemporary military historians tend to shy away from. He even has sketch maps of battle tactics and how various counter-strategies were used and themselves countered.

The basic point to be drawn from the book is that the Indian battlefield was a fire-heavy environment. Initially, this firepower was provided by Central Asian horse archers; the early Mughals kept close links with places like Samarkand and considered themselves, essentially, Mongol tribal leaders. However, Barbur, in the early sixteenth century, recognised the importance of gunpowder and proceeded to integrate it into his battle tactics. The problem was, of course, how to do so in an already fluid and firepower rich battle environment.

Barbur seems to have acquired his ideas from Ottoman sources, either directly or indirectly. This was the ‘Roman method’, of battle. The infantry, as in Ottoman battles, were deployed in a wagon laager or field fortification, together with the artillery. The light horse screened this and provided fast-moving, hard-hitting wings, supported by the heavy cavalry (which itself could deliver a fair bit of firepower, being bow armed). An interesting sideline on this, which I did not know, is that the wagons in the laager were deployed facing the enemy, with the infantry behind. Thus, I suppose, any charging cavalry were the length of the wagon and the traces away from the vulnerable infantry. You would need a very long lance indeed to do any damage at that range.

De La Garza makes the point that, from some points of view, crossbows and muskets are more useful than longbows. Both the former can be aimed without the expenditure of energy, and so can be used by infantry lurking in cover or behind field fortifications. The Mongols, he says, hated crossbows. Indian infantry, as with their East Asian counterparts, appear to have liked to aim at specific enemies. Not for them is the massed firing into massed bodies of troops favoured in the Western world. De La Garza also notes that crossbows and muskets could be used by relatively untrained troops, whereas horse archery needed huge quantities of skill and practice, and longbows also needed much more training. Musketry, therefore, was cheaper to assemble in large quantities and, in general, packed a bigger punch than longbow archery and, particularly, horse archers.

We have then an emerging picture of a Mughal army with a central infantry core of muskets and other firepower, such as camel guns, rockets and artillery. The wings were of horse archers, and the whole usually assumed the strategic offensive, while necessarily maintaining the tactical defensive. To this arrangement the initial Indian armies had no reply, relying on a central charge of heavy cavalry which was stopped and then outflanked by Barbur’s army. However, the opposition soon adapted, which led to the defeat of the Mughals by trickery (usually) by Sher Shah Suri; the two armies created fortified camps and waited to see who would starve or whose nerve broke first. It was only dynastic misfortune which handed India back to the Mughals.

Given all this, and the adaption of gunpowder into Indian armies, why was this military revolution only partially followed through, and why did it ultimately fail in the eighteenth century against Western-trained forces? There is no single answer to this. Possibly the Mughals lost access to warhorses and trained horse archers from Central Asia; certainly there was a decline in horse archers with the more widespread adoption of gunpowder in those parts. Partially, De La Garza suggests, the Mughal empire was a victim of its own success. It simply became too big to need to innovate One of the points both De La Garza and Gommons make is that the Mughals dominated to military manpower market in South Asia and sucked into their armies most of the easily available soldiers. Thus, little in the way of rivals could emerge.

Finally, De La Garza suggests, the Mughals were set on the road to destruction by Aurungzeb, the last of the ‘great’ Mughals. He seems to have rather overthrown the basis of the empire in toleration and allowing talent to be rewarded, as well as getting bogged down in an interminable war in the south of India, while the regional rulers in the north quietly started to go their own way. Thus, by the time the Europeans arrived in force the market in military manpower was open and regional politics allowed the British in.

This is, as I noted, a real book of history, but with a special meaning for wargamers and is highly recommended. I dare say I will be reconstituting my Indian forces in response to it.