There is no doubt about it: if you want to kill off the readership of your blog (not literally, of course) the answer is to write about naval wargaming. The first post of this year about plans for the future got over forty views, although I do not know how many of those were Russian botnets or Indian exam answer mills. The second post, which was about a naval wargame in the Alexander’s Anabasis campaign got just over half that. It had a picture of a table with a blue cloth. It clearly puts people off.
I have mentioned before that this is very odd, particularly among Anglo-American wargamers, given the legacy of naval history both have. Most wargamers, it seems, like to keep their feet firmly on the ground. In spite of a few books in the heyday of wargame publishing, there seems to be relatively little uptake of naval wargaming, certainly as anything particularly mainstream.
Perhaps this is because naval wargaming is perceived as being complicated. Certainly I have seen some awfully complex naval wargame rules, some of which required a computer to play. These were mainly related to World War I, World War Two and fictitious (mercifully) recent Cold War actions, and I suppose the full gamut of modern naval fighting is very complicated, particularly with electronic countermeasures and so on. Incidentally I once nearly accepted a job part of which was to develop methods of hiding modern naval vessels. I often wonder what would have happened if I had; World War three possibly.
Still, my interest, wargame wise, is of course early modern and ancient wargaming and, as I think wargames should cover the whole of military activity, I am not going to stop writing about naval matters. As I threatened in the New Year post I have been pondering the Anglo-Dutch wars recently, and have even started to take some action in that direction. I have not quite decided what is going to happen, but it seems that something is in the air.
Anyway, with that in mind I have been reading:
Barry, Q. (2018). From Solebay to the Texel: The Third Anglo-Dutch War, 1672 - 1674. Warwick: Helion.
This work is part of Helion’s ‘Century of the Soldier’ series, which is extensive and, so far as I can tell, a bit patchy in quality, although on the whole useful and good. This is no exception – it is a good book.
The first two chapters are background, covering the first and second Anglo-Dutch Wars. Central to these conflicts was the commercial rivalry between the two nations. This is a bit interesting, as it shows that wars are often fought because of ideas. The idea here is mercantilism, the concept that there is a fixed amount of trade in the world and that each nation has to try to capture more from other countries, rather than the (more modern) idea that trade can expand endlessly.
Proximate causes of the first ADW was the refusal of the Dutch to remove Royalists from their land and the passing of the Navigation Act by Parliament in 1651. This was aimed directly at Dutch commerce, stating that imports into England could only be in ships of the nation of origin or English ships. The Dutch re-export trade was therefore threatened.
It is possible that the Anglo-Dutch Wars are rather unpopular in in wargame terms, or even in Anglophone historiography, because they were so nakedly related to money and trade. I suspect as well that Tony Bath’s comments about them in Setting Up a Wargame Campaign might have something to do with it. Without getting up to find the book, as I recall he suggests that the scope is rather cramped and opportunities for strategic manoeuvre limited. He also suggests that the chances of either side carrying out a successful amphibious operation was limited. These things are perhaps true, but not so true as to make the wars unwargamable.
Another factor in the relative unpopularity of the period is the fact that the wars were rather embarrassing to the British naval tradition of victory. Everyone, probably, has heard of the Dutch raid on the Medway, and none of the other actions seem to have been particularly decisive (except in the first war, but that was during the Commonwealth and therefore embarrassing for home political reasons rather than military ones). The British government had not really worked out how to create the infrastructure for naval operations, and the fleet was not wholly appropriate for them. Revictualling was a problem, as was the repair of battle and storm damage. Under Charles II money was a problem as well.
Land action did take place, of course, in the Third Anglo-Dutch War. This one was pushed by Charles II in alliance with the French under Louis XIV. The French invaded on land and contributed a naval squadron, under British overall command. The activities of the latter showed that perhaps Louis was not as committed as he might have been to the naval cause, and Charles had to drop out of the war when he ran out of money. Still, there are four battles described in the book, Solebay, two battles of Schooneveld and The Texel. While naval doctrine had been settled by the British in the first war, and then copied by the French and Dutch, the best description I can give of them is ‘chaotic’. It is one thing to order a fleet into line; it is quite another to keep it there.
This was probably a transitionary time in naval warfare., and therefore is possibly at least as interesting, if not more so, than Nelson and his colleagues. How best to handle a fleet was a bit moot at the time. The correct strategic employment of the ships was another. Barry concludes by observing that in spite of all the blood and treasure expended in home waters by both sides, the most damage was done by a small Dutch squadron in the West Indies and North America.
Still, I doubt if anyone is reading this post now, so I shall finish , but promise to return to unpopular naval matters. After all, whoever blogged for popularity?