Saturday, 1 October 2022

Jersey Boys Part III

‘Off we go then, captain.’

‘Sir?’

‘We’re landing. At St Ouen’s Bay, remember? I distinctly saw you at the Council of War that agreed to it.’

‘But sir, the wind…’

‘You’ve just said that the wind was fine. Unicorn and Elizabeth are leading us in. Then we will enter the bay and land, while the transports do likewise and the little warships provide more fire support.’

‘Very well sir. Um. Right hand down a bit.’

‘Captain?’

‘Sir?’

‘I know I am not a sailor, but I do happen to know that turning right while the bay is to our left and Unicorn and Elizabeth are over there is not the correct thing to do.’

‘Set loose the mainsails.’

‘Captain, we are stopping. Why?’

‘Um, well, sir, you see it's complicated because, um….’

‘Lieutenant, do have any idea what is going on?’

‘No, Colonel. I think Captain sir has made an error, sir.’

‘Very well Lieutenant. Captain sir is relieved of his command and you will take us in. Captain sir, below decks if you please. We will discuss your behaviour later.’

*

Well, of all the captains in the Parliamentary fleet to fumble their initiative roll it had to be the naval commander of the whole lot. Fortunately for the invasion, the orders had already been sent out and the leading elements of the fleet were making landfall. Colonel Block actually aced his roll to relieve the hapless fumbler of his command of the ship and order the First Lieutenant to take them in. Better late than never.



The picture shows the situation after the first few moves. Unicorn and Elizabeth are closest in at present, bombarding the militia units on the beach. In the right background, you can see St Ouen’s manor, and right on the edge of the picture, Sir George Carter is moving up the cavalry and dragoons. In the foreground, the first wave of the beach assault is embarking. For the purposes of the game, as they were under direct orders, the initiative rolls of the commanders were doubled. The wind, incidentally, is southerly, blowing from left to right across the board.

As the militia units were standing back a bit from the beach itself, some of the landing foot were able to get themselves organised before being engaged. You can see the first three companies formed up on the left, while the two companies from the second ‘wave’ have just landed to their right. More Parliamentary ships are arriving, and Unicord and Elizabeth have scored some hits on the militia. You can also see between the landing parties and the merchant transports a sixth-rate New Friggot, which is about to supply crucial fire support to the Parliamentary right.


Having landed and got organised, Captain Webb took command on the beach, given that the general officers aboard Lion had not arrived as yet. He moved towards the militia companies opposite him, hoping that the new arrivals would sort themselves out to oppose Carter’s cavalry and fusiliers.


A few moves later and the key moment is being approached. More landing parties are approaching the beach. While the Parliamentary left is doing well against their opponents, Webb has moved a company across to support the centre, the right hand most company of which has not managed to rally from the landing and is being threatened by Carter’s cavalry as well as being shot up by the fusiliers. To the left, you can see the Tresco, commanded by Block’s son, which has just arrived and is shooting at the Royalist's right. Unicorn and Elizabeth are further right, off camera, shooting ineffectually at the rest of the militia.



The key moment was the charge of Carter’s horse on the disorganised landers. They were easily disposed of, but then the horse was left stuck between a newly landed company of foot and Webb’s two companies on their flank. Meanwhile, New Friggot has pounded the fusiliers sufficiently to take them out of the action. After manful resistance, Carter’s cavalry broke and fled, as did the fusiliers after another good shot from New Friggot. At the extreme left, you can see more Parliamentary foot landing, and the first wave moving in against the island militia.


The end was not far away, and the above is a wide shot of it. The cavalry and fusiliers are routing, while on the Royalist right two of the three companies of militia are routing also. One of the latter is as a result of bombardment from Tresco and the newly (finally) arrived Lion. More Parliamentary ships and troops are arriving and these will soon be depositing their loads on the beach (two of the transports have cavalry which takes longer, of course). At this point, the Royalist morale sank to withdraw, so they did. On the other hand, if you look closely, you will note that the wind has moved to blow north-west to south-east, which means that the fleet is now on a lee shore. It shouldn’t be a problem. Probably.

As this is a campaign game I have a bit of administration to do, of course, not to mention extracting the Parliamentary fleet from its lee shore. The game took over a map move, incidentally, which is why the wind changed. It has also affected the Royalist fleet attempting to get out of St Helier harbour on the other side of the island and forced them to tack back towards the harbour. Sailing ships do make things a lot more complicated.

*

‘Good to be on terra firma, what?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘You did well Captain Webb.’

‘Thank you, sir. The men were not going to be defeated once we got ashore, sir.’

‘Excellent. I shall write to the Committee about you and your men. Now, what shall we do with this snivelling wreck of a sailor?’

‘Perhaps we should be merciful as the Lord is merciful, sir. God has, after all, made our enemies as stubble to our swords today and so we should accept His mercies and pass them on, even unto snivelling wrecks.’





Saturday, 24 September 2022

Jersey Boys Part II


As noted last time, I decided to try a full-blown, if limited in scope, map campaign, based around the Parliamentary invasion of Royalist-held Jersey at the end of the civil wars (1652). I had mugged up on the campaign, so far as it was possible, and obtained an old-looking map, as well as a modern road map to make things a bit easier. I had also laboriously created six attribute characteristics for each commander, down to individual ship and company commanders, and typed it all out (so I can still read it; my handwriting can verge on the general practitioner’s level).

The campaign board was thus set up.


Here you can see the main campaign map at the top, printed on A3 paper with the nice hex grid superimposed. I did encounter a bit of a problem in struggling to read the numbers, but I managed, making a mental note to increase the contrast if I ever do this again. The commercial road map is at the bottom left, which also handily shows the beaches, and the orders of battle, unit identifications, and personalities of the commanders are in the two documents pinned to the bottom right.

The various pins in the main map are, of course, the defending forces' initial positions. Jersey had twelve parishes, as I recall, and each had a militia company to call on, so they are in green, except St Helier which has a double company. There is also a company of fusiliers, a troop of dragoons, and another of cavalry based there. The red pins indicate static garrison troops at St Aubin’s Tower, Elizabeth Castle, and Mount Orgueil Castle (east coast). I also decided to give the Royalists a small naval force based in the harbour at St Helier.

The Parliamentary fleet arrived from the northwest and as they came in sight of the island Colonel Block called a council of war aboard Lion, his flagship. After some poor dice rolling on behalf of Block and his senior officers, they decided to do the obvious and attempt to land at St Ouen’s Beach at the western edge of the island. However, the weather was not good and they had to sail up and down for a day or two for it to moderate to a nice if fresh, southerly wind.

In the meantime, couriers had been busy on the island, summoning the militias and other troops to rendezvous on St Ouen’s beach. This process was a little slow but ultimately successful, and much of the militia, plus Carter’s mounted troops and the fusiliers arrived at St Ouen’s Bay before Block’s troops were ready to land.


The picture shows the campaign map at this point, with the cluster of Royalist map pins on the shore at St Ouen’s. If you look closely you can see that the Royalist fleet, or most of it, is working its way out of St Helier. This was a bit tricky as the wind was southerly and there are a load of rocks not far out to sea, as you might observe.

I have to confess to a bit of cheating with time and ground scales. The map is about half a mile to a hex, I think, at least given the size of Jersey. After some initial um-ing and ah-ing I decided that foot would move two hexes per map turn and cavalry and couriers four. Naval units would move between one and four depending on the wind strength and direction, alongside tactical considerations – sailing ships can slow down by shortening sail.

I decided on four map moves per day, three in daylight and one at night where the movement rates were halved. I also included the weather. A roll for the wind direction and another for strength, and a roll for the weather conditions themselves. This rather delayed matters for Colonel Block, as the wind for the first couple of days was blowing from the west, which made making landfall at St Ouen’s a bit risky as the ships would be heading for a lee shore. When it shifted to from the north Block struck. I am still not sure about this, because halfway through the game (eight wargame moves equal one map move, by the way) the wind shifted to blow from the northwest, so the fleet was now in danger of being caught again. Mind you the Royalist fleet was also tangled up by the wind and its change in direction having to shift itself back towards St Helier to avoid being driven onto the rocks.

Anyway, the stage was set for a nice little amphibious wargame. To avoid some of the mistakes of the last time around, I put some thought into the naval bombardment. At the Council of War Block had already designated Unicorn and Elizabeth (the fifth rates) to lead the force into the bay and commence bombardment. I decided that the artillery rules would be as normal in my land rule. That is, over four base widths in range you have to roll a six to hit, and then resolve the combat. There is a logic to that which I will explain sometime, but not here.

I reasoned that the naval ships, having cannons in profusion compared to land forces, would count as a certain number of batteries, my reasoning being that more guns at longer range and a more unstable platform would more or less cancel out the range issues. So the merchantmen, if they chose to use them, would have one ‘battery’, one shot, that is, the sixth rates, when they appeared, two, the fifth rates three, and the fourth rate, four.

As for landing, once the ships were anchored in the bay, the company captains would be tested for initiative and those that passed would spend a move loading their men into rowing boats, which would then move at normal speed to land. One anything but a six they would be able to disembark, but would suffer two levels of terrain shaken until they rallied. On the other hand, the Royalist troops were further back than last time, just moving up from their camps.

I hope you want to know what happened next. Well, tune in next week for another exciting episode...









Saturday, 17 September 2022

The New Model Army

When does a revolt become a revolution? That is one of the questions raised by a book I have just finished:

Gentles, I., The New Model Army: Agent of Revolution, 2022, Yale, New Haven.

This is actually the second edition of Gentles’ 1992 book on the New Model Army, which took the story to 1653 and the end of the major fighting. In the preface, Gentles admits to having had to condense some parts of the original to add new material on the succeeding eight years, and also update the whole in the light of thirty years of extra research.

The result might disappoint the purely military wargamer but is of great interest to many more general historians and, indeed, wargamers, although Gentles himself bemoans the lack of military history writing and research about the civil wars. Still, his ideas on what made the New Model Army such a formidable fighting force are of interest. As he observes in the epilogue, what really matters to a fighting force it its morale, the spirit of the army. Here the early New Model Army was streets ahead of its opponents, whoever they were, at least until the mid-1650s.

It is rather interesting to read different books about different aspects of the English Civil Wars are find them pointing to the same period. James Scott Wheeler, in The Making of a Great Power, points to the legislation passed by the Long Parliament in early 1645 as definitive for the creation of the financial apparatus to fund the New Model Army and future wars. Gentles points to the same period as the key to turning the English Civil War into a revolution.

Prior to the creation of the New Model Army, and even to some extent afterward, there was a clash on the Parliamentary side between the war and the peace party. After a lot of parliamentary shenanigans, the war party won got their army and the commission they required for Sir Thomas Fairfax as commander. The key point in the commission was that it did not include a clause requiring the protection of the king’s majesty and person. Gentles argues that this meant that those who framed and forced through the commission meant to end the war by defeating the king’s party, whether it cost the king his life or not. That, he says, is the moment when the rebellion became a revolution.

The early campaigns are rather skated over. Naseby gets a few paragraphs and the south-western campaign a bit more but not much. This is interesting and possibly is where the cuts in the book occurred because I would have thought that the tradition and expectation of victory that Naseby, Langport, and the rest brought were important in convincing the army and its commanders that God was really on its side. Still, the later campaigns get more coverage, with Preston, Ireland, Dunbar, and Worcester being given sizeable chunks as well as maps.

There is a fair bit about politics and the army, of course. The interplay between the radicals, mostly junior officers with some senior support, and ordinary soldiers, particularly cavalry troopers is fascinating if verging on the bonkers. The Putney debates, the influence of the Levellers, Pride’s Purge, and all the usual suspects are present, including the trial and execution of the king. The problem was that no one really, except a few radicals, wanted to execute the king. Cromwell had a shrewd idea that chaos could be the result and it would be very difficult to secure a settlement without the king, but no one trusted him anymore. Charles seemed to think that would protect him. It rather ensured his son’s ultimate succession.

There is plenty of interest in the book. The expedition which landed up in capturing Jamaica gets a bit, emphasizing the organizational chaos and complacency that led to the debacle. If you start to think God is on your side, sometimes the concept of preparation gets rather lost. Unfortunately, while the government of Ireland and Scotland post-conquest get a fair bit of coverage, the Dunkirk expedition does not. There is, I suppose, only so much room in the book.

The fundamental problem for the New Model Army in the government in the 1650s was the cost of the armed forces. They were the guarantor of the regime and to Godly Cause, but were hideously expensive and, if unpaid, the army took free quarter which made it very unpopular in the country. In the end the Protectorate was bankrupt, as was the reconvened Rump Parliament in 1659. The general in Scotland, George Monk, who had reasons for not being a fan of the Rump, carefully bided his time until support for the army and the Junto of senior officers had ebbed away and then intervened decisively. Gentles is of the opinion that Monk had decided what his aim was earlier than many historians think, and certainly earlier than Monk himself admitted.

Monk’s political abilities enabled the Restoration without, as Richard Baxter observed, so much as a bloodied nose. The army acquiesced and was mostly disbanded, although it did get arrears of pay. The rank and file, it turned out, did not much care for the Good Old Cause, but they did want their pay. The radical officers had managed to alienate pretty well everyone, and the grandees of the Wallingford House Junto dithered indecisively until it was decisively too late.

Everyone, it seems, underestimated Monk. It goes to show that if you can manage that, you only have to be averagely competent and you take everyone by surprise, I suppose. If the grandees, particularly Lambert and Fleetwood had managed earlier, more decisive action, things might have turned out differently. Lambert headed a bigger force than Monk’s and tried to stop his advance. Morale, again, was the key. Lambert’s men deserted. As Gentles observes, this was not the New Model Army of the late 1640s or early 1650s, but a different, disliked, underpaid and under-resourced force. The army for the Caribbean under Venables was the scraping of it. No wonder it performed rather poorly. Perhaps the writing was on the wall then.

Saturday, 10 September 2022

Phew! Just Made It

Now I hope you are aware, as my regular reader, that I am not one to crow or show off, especially about my painting ability. However, over the last two years or so I have been trying to climb Mount Impossible, also known as reducing the pile of unpainted toy soldiers by a significant amount. This was sparked, in part, by the Estimable Mrs. P observing, recently, in her usual Delphic manner, ‘Unread books are useless, and unpainted soldiers are useless.’

Guilty on both counts. One might almost think that she knows her husband reasonably well, and knows where to strike for maximum effect. On the other hand, she has provoked a spate of reading, as recent posts will show, and some painting, which is the focus here.

Last year, my noble reader will recall, I managed to paint a total of 1024 little men. This reduced my lead pile to 845 toys, the difference the eagle-eyed will have spotted is accounted for by the 179 Muscovites which were added to the pile and painted in the same year (Shock! Horror!). That left me with about 1500 left to paint, of course.




The screenshot above shows the 1928 outstanding items at the beginning of my painting year (October 2021). Before anyone observes that there are more than 1500 or so items accounted for, I have added in the yearly purchases, this time of 288 ECW infantry from Lord Baccus, which appeared at Christmas, and the 28 ships for the Anglo-Dutch War which came in February. It is no wonder that reaching the bottom of the lead pile is a receding target. I have also added in the fifty (or so, they are a bit tricky to count) 25 mm plus figures I came across buried deep in a box. Such is the lot of the wargamer, I suppose. You hide these things away from your nearest and dearest, and yourself, and then, years later, they magically appear to torment you.

Still, I did set about my yearly target of 1000 figures with some modicum of enthusiasm and reported some reasonable progress by the mid-point of the painting year. I did get a bit stuck with the ADW ships, as was also noted at the time, and my claim is that without these I would have done even better. An excellent argument, I can claim, especially as it is impossibly to disprove.

Those of you who are waiting for the detailed result with bated breath (is there anyone) will be relieved to know that my spreadsheet skills have been kept up to date by creating the following.




What you can see above is the near exhaustion of my stocks of ECW troops. The Irish foot, who had been hanging around for a couple of years, was completed and took part in the Benburb game. The outstanding Scottish cavalry was also finished, with some of them being contributed generously to the Irish as well. As I noted I did manage the ADW ships, who have appeared (some of them, at least) in action, and also a few of the biggies which have been painted and/or repainted.

For the rest, I have been rounding out assorted ancient armies. The Marian Romans got skirmishers, cavalry, and bolt-shooters. The Greeks got cavalry and bolt-shooters. The Celts got skirmishers, tribal foot, some extra light cavalry, and some chariots (you can never, in my view, have enough chariots). I also finished off the imitation legionaries and unpronounceable Greek foot for the Pontic army. They did not particularly need them, but there you go; it is nice to have the option. The last lap has been to tackle the Parthians, which in fact were not touched by the doubling project of a few years ago, and therefore had been languishing with only twenty bases. They have now been augmented by 7 bases of cataphracts, 12 of skirmishers, and, so far, 12 of light horse, with another 6 bases undercoated and awaiting painting. Not that they are all based as yet, but I count painted as finished, or I would go mad.

So, I hear you cry: ‘What of the future?’ Good question, and I am glad you asked. The current total is that I have 990 figures left for the coming year. If I manage to outstanding 24 Parthians, that will drop to 966, so obviously I am going to have another push at the ancients. I shall probably start with the Dacians, as they are the current biggest unpainted pile.

You might wonder, incidentally, where the figure of 990 comes from. If you subtract 1024 from 1928, as in the total above, you get 904. Well, all I can say is that the wargame figure fairies have been active and have mysteriously added 72 Celtic tribal foot. I discovered them in the same bag as the Parthians, and I have no idea how they got there. This is, I suppose, another hazard of having a lead mountain: things get mixed up.

Now, of course, rumour has it that when a wargamer has finished their pile of unpainted lead, they die. Fear not, gentle reader, for I have undertaken further investigations of my storage boxes and have unearthed another 554 1:72nd scale medieval figures, from assorted manufacturers. I do have, somewhere (in another pile of storage boxes inevitably) some painted ones, nearly enough for a DBA army, I think. I suspect the project ground to a halt because of a bit of a lack of bowmen, but I cannot remember. Certainly, the Robin Hood figures seem to have had their archers thoroughly looted, so I presume they were painted. I must have a look sometime.

So there you are. I know 1000 or so 6 mm figures is not much by some people’s painting standards. I saw someone who had done 3000+ last year, and to a far better standard than I can dream of. But I do keep plugging away and, hopefully, as the lead pile diminishes I will start to feel less guilty about spending my hobby time playing games rather than painting.

Saturday, 3 September 2022

The Making of a World Power

I think it was Geoffrey Parker who observed that perhaps the most interesting thing about world history is not how the Europeans manage to nab 80% of the world (or so), but how they managed to grab the first 30%. The point is that at the end of the European medieval period, Europe was a largely ignored and ignorable lump of land at the far end of Asia. All the interesting stuff happened elsewhere.

That, of course, is a gross simplification, but there is a point. Parker, after all, is interested, when he made the comment, in the ‘military revolution’ of the early modern era, which, he claims, enabled the first thirty per cent take over of the world. Perhaps. The military revolution is a bit of a disputed idea and happened at different rates in different places.

By focussing down onto one country we might be able to see what was going on, at least in a more localised sense. This is the intention of

Wheeler, J. S. The Making of a World Power: War and the Military Revolution in Seventeenth Century England (Stroud, Sutton, 1999).

This is another book I pulled off my shelf recently, having read it ages ago and not really recalling what it had to say. An interesting read to be sure, but not really one about the military revolution. It is more about the financial revolution which, Wheeler argues, went alongside and was necessary to the military revolution occurring.

England is an interesting case. During the reign of Elizabeth England and her views and resources mattered. Her navy dominated and her money propped up the Protestant cause in north-west Europe. Elizabeth’s war aims were to ensure that the Channel ports were in friendly hands and the secure the Protestant cause. In spite of the costs of war she managed that, but the government was plunged into debt. Late Sixteenth Century was no place for the financially feeble, as even the Spanish found out.

After the 1604 peace and the reconquest of Ireland, James I cut military expenditure massively. The navy mouldered (not quite as much a Wheeler argues, I think, but overall it was much reduced in strength) and the army vanished. Even the events of the opening of the Thirty Years War did not bring forth much reaction from the English court, basically because intervention was unaffordable.

Charles I’s wars against France and Spain were likewise too expensive to be bourn and were national humiliations to boot. Charles opted for peace and non-intervention, picking up money from foreign powers where he could.

In the mid-1630s came the ship money fleet. It was really a no-brainer that England needed a fleet, but the question of how it was to be paid for was vexing. Charles extended the ship money, a historical levy on coastal counties for their protection, to the whole country and the law courts found that he could. It bought in a fair bit of cash and, in fact, set up the first peacetime Royal Navy in England’s history. Prior to then the navy had been a bit ad hoc, shall we say.

All might have been well if Charles could have avoided internal conflict. He created a war with the Scots which he could not afford and his financial creativity annoyed a lot of English and Parliament when he was forced to recall it. The English had the idea that the king should live off his own income in peace time. The royal finances in fact showed this was impossible.

The point here is that warfare had become really expensive and that inflation had reduced the value of Parliamentary subsidies anyway. Elizabeth had sold off crown lands to balance the books, but that was a diminishing recourse. As England plunged into civil war both sides were left with the question of how they paid for the conflict.

Initially the measures were ad hoc – loans, gifts and seizures lasted for a couple of year. By the end of 1644 however, the Parliamentary side was at financial breaking point, as well as getting war weary. Something had to be done.

The something was the reformation of both the army and the government’s finances. This, Wheeler argues, laid the basis for the rise of England to world power status by the end of the century. Loans were taken out secured by the income from the three main sources of government income: customs, excise and the assessment. The customs supported the navy while the excise (a sales tax) and the assessment (which became the land tax) went to the army. Or at least, loads based on the anticipated revenue did.

After teething troubles the system worked. The Protectorate managed largely to pay for its military forces, only causing a financial crisis at the end (after 1655) by radically cutting taxes, which contributed to the fall of the regime. The post-Restoration government kept the assessment (which was based on Charles I’s ship money assessment) and, despite protestations to the contrary, the standing navy and army. The country was more heavily taxed than Charles I could have dreamt of especially in peace time. The government got away with it because Parliament had largely assumed responsibility for the nation’s finances.

Wheeler’s point is that the military revolution brought into the country by Elizabethan and Caroline warfare, the experience of English, Irish and Scottish soldiers in Europe and the outbreak of civil war entailed a financial revolution which was overseen by the Long Parliament. England rose to be a great power during the middle and latter part of the Seventeenth Century on the strength of it, and it was consolidated, rather than started, by the foundation of the Bank of England in 1694.

The fact that there was remarkably little resistance to the taxes indicates that, on the whole the nation acquiesced to their collection. Additionally, the excise, introduced in 1643, was a tax on all English people, not just on the wealthy. The government started reaching into all citizen’s lives at that point.

Saturday, 27 August 2022

Great Battles that Weren’t

I am sure it has not escaped the notice of my astute reader that some battles just did not happen. I dare say we can all think of a few in our favourite eras. Those confrontations where one side got cold feet, received incorrect information, or decided to march away in the rain and forget about the whole embarrassing escapade. Or where the alliance broke down before it got going and hence, of course, deprived the wargamer of a fascinating encounter.

It might not have escaped your attention that I have turned the idea into a campaign game – Armada Abbeys – based on the premise that the Spanish Armada did, in fact, land, or at least, partially landed. This is a highly respectable idea in historiography, by the way. Geoffrey Parker has a chapter on it in his book on the Armada, and I have seen a journal article or two about it, plus a discussion in one of the Elizabethan wars books I have read (do you really expect me to get up and find it?).

The fundamental idea is that there are a lot of situations in history where a campaign could have taken a different turn. For example, consider the Dieppe raid. What would have happened if the allies had captured the port and clung on? It was not part of the plan, granted, but a 1942 invasion of north-western Europe would certainly give a different twist to the progress of World War Two. Granted the allies would probably have been thrown back eventually, but where would the Wehrmacht pull the resources from to do so? It is not my period, but the possibilities are manifold.

This has been brought to mind as I have been pondering categories of wargames – historical, semi-historical, fictitious, and so on. Battles that could have happened but did not would fall into the semi-historical classification. The enemies could have clashed at that time and in that place, but did not. The Armada could have landed but did not. The allies could have dug in at Dieppe but were not in a position to, and so on.

As a case in point, as I was writing about this, I recalled reading in Jonathan Sumption’s Trial by Battle: The Hundred Years War I (London: Faber & Faber, 1990) about the campaigns before Crecy. These are activities that are largely ignored in the historiography and military history of the period, probably because they did not result in a battle, but they are interesting nevertheless.

The English under Edward I and his Flemish allies besieged Cambrai in the summer of 1339, and the French army marched to relieve it, taking up a position at Peronne on the Somme, 22 miles away. There they stayed, much to Edward’s dismay as he sought to bring them to battle. Cambrai held out (just) and the French would not move to relieve it. Edward had no particular use for the place except as bait for the French and he probably needed to move on to find supplies. He had around 10,000 men, half of them English, and a slightly fractious array of allies, some of whom were vassals for the French king. Invading France was going to cause them some pain.

In early October Edward invaded France, looting and burning as they went. The French king eventually arrived and took command of his army, while Edward drew his forces together and retreated, probably to secure his line of retreat north. He had other problems: the English had supplies but their allies had not, having expected to fight the decisive battle as soon as they entered France. Just as the army was about to fall apart the French sent a formal challenge to battle on 21 or 22 October. Edward accepted.

On 21 October Edward halted at La Capelle and ordered for battle. The army was arranged in three lines of infantry and men-at-arms behind a stake-lined trench, with archers forward and to the flanks. The French halted on 22 October at Buirenfosse about four miles away. During the night the English raided their lines.

Edward’s plan was, of course, the classic English tactic of the early Hundred Year’s War, to lure the enemy cavalry through an arrow storm onto a line of men at arms behind a row of stakes. The French must have known that, and there was a furious debate in their camp as to what to do. The army was hungry and thirsty, having marched through well-looted land in the last few days. Not forcing the action and making Edward retreat would be as successful as defeating him in battle. The French vanguard retreated and dug in.

At this point, Edward realised that his campaign had failed. He had sought a decisive battle and the enemy had refused. His army was smaller and had its own supply problems; he could not attack the superior French in a defended position. He had to retreat. After they had gone the French too withdrew, after examining the English position and finding it not as formidable as they had expected.

Crecy would have to wait. Edward only just scraped together the alliance and the money to continue the war. Harvests were poor and the wool price was low (the main source of English income) because Edward had flooded to market to raise cash. Crecy would have to wait.

Yet the wargamer might be inspired. What if Philip of France had decided to attack to English at La Capelle? It would be as famous as Crecy now, in all probability. Edward’s alliance might have survived, especially if he had won. If Philip had lost, what then?

As it is, La Capelle is only known as the place where the Armistice was signed in 1918 (according to Sumption, anyway). It could have been different. A superior force attacking a shaky alliance with better firepower and a reasonable defensive position. After all, what on earth could go wrong?

So, there you are. A battle that wasn’t. History can change on such things. Philip might have been persuaded to do the honourable thing and fight. Edward certainly hoped so. As wargamers, we can speculate, and that is part of the fun.

Saturday, 20 August 2022

A Diabolical Plot

It has been said, although the veracity of it is disputed, that there are seven basic plots in fiction. It seems, to a non-literary critic who only occasionally reads novels, that there might be some truth in the claim, although not all plots will fit neatly into one of the seven categories. For reasons which might become clear eventually, if I ever get around to it, I have been considering the plots of wargames, and, more specifically, plots of wargame campaigns.

As my attentive reader might be able to deduce, this has arisen through my recent pondering that a wargame is a narrative, a story we like to tell because we are humans and humans like to tell stories. This impression of mine was reinforced by a comment in Henry Hyde’s Wargaming Campaigns, to the effect that campaigns are bigger narratives within which each battle is embedded. I am not going to argue with that.

Given that a wargame campaign is a larger narrative (I am not going to say ‘meta-narrative’ here because of its postmodernist connotations) it must, if logic serves me, have some sort of plot. Turning that around, it occurred to me that the seven basic plots in fiction may well enable the wargamer to think of a variety of plots or themes for wargame campaigns. My idea is that to keep interested in the campaign (which is a difficult thing sometimes) an overarching plot might well help.

There might be some logic in this sudden onrush of literary-ness on the blog. After all, something must propel readers, often easily bored teenagers, through Nicholas Nickleby or Far From the Madding Crowd, although one of my schoolfriends described the latter as ‘Far From the Maddening Crowd’ and when corrected, replied ‘I know what I mean’. So an overarching narrative might help us as wargamers drive our campaigns onwards.

The first plot is ‘overcoming the monster’, where the aim is for the hero to defeat their antagonist, who may well be evil. The hero might well be small and relatively powerless while their foe is wealthy, or powerful, or influential. Rendering that into wargame terms is fairly straightforward: we could have a minor principality menaced by a larger neighbour, for example. The neighbour attacks, there is a heroic defence, perhaps defeat and rebellion or other powers, small or large join in.

The second plot is ‘rags to riches’, where the protagonist goes from being poor and ill-treated to obtaining power, wealth, a mate, and so on. Think Cinderella. This is the plot for an awful lot of role-playing game campaigns (as opposed to scenarios). Perhaps, at risk of engaging in modern UK politics, a campaign whereby the Scots rebel against English rule would be the nearest wargame here. Or perhaps I have been reading too much about the Bishop’s Wars.

Next up is ‘the quest’. This is a fairly obvious one, used in many films where the characters, good and evil, are after some object or attempt to get to some objective. The Maltese Falcon is an example. Again, this is a fairly obvious role-playing game device for both campaigns and scenarios (who has never attempted to rescue the Duke’s loot or daughter, for example?). Historically the campaigns of Alexander III of Macedon would qualify I should think, although quite what he was looking for is anyone’s guess.

Fourthly, we have the ‘voyage and return’, where the hero goes to a strange land and comes back changed in some way. The possibilities here are manifold, I think. Colonial wargaming would yield a fair bit of this, as would fantasy and science-fiction. Even campaigns where the strange lands are not so strange and the armies are bigger than skirmish size would still fit the bill; the American Revolutionary Wars probably changed the British Army, after all.

Then there is comedy. I am trying to get my head around a wargame as a comedy without much success, although role-playing games can fit the bill. There is in comedy a plot based around increasing confusion and errors which are finally resolved happily. There might be comedy in wargames, but I am finding it hard to conceive of it as part of the game. Perhaps you can help me out here.

Penultimately there is tragedy. The hero is flawed or has made a mistake, and pays for it, perhaps with his honour, or his life, or that of his loved ones, or possibly all of them – think Macbeth, who probably had most of those things happen. I can certainly think of a campaign along those lines where a nation has made an error and has to back it up with force. The Romans did a lot of it in their provinces, extracting taxes corruptly and then having to deal with the rebellion.

Finally, there is ‘rebirth’. Here events turn the hero into a better person, such as in A Christmas Carol. That would certainly be possible in a role-playing game, I think, but how about an overall wargame campaign? Well, we could consider the political implications of, say, the First World War where women got the vote in the UK as a result of their war service. Is that stretching the point a bit far? Or maybe we could consider the encounter of the Roman Empire with Eastern cavalry which led to the cataphract? That might be considered to be a bit more to do with wargaming.

The point here is not to show that all wargames fit neatly into seven categories. They do not, and I am aware of it. But before launching a major (or even a minor one) wargame campaign it might just be worth thinking about it for a bit and using the basic plot schema for trying to decide what, at least initially, is going to be the narrative driver for the action. Mostly, I should think, this will be fairly simple and straightforward, but the bigger the campaign, or the more detailed, then, I suspect, the bigger narrative drive it will need to sustain interest.