Saturday 29 August 2015

The Art of Destruction

So, there I was, in the middle of what the estimable Mrs P describes as a ‘battle’. The said conflict was part of my shiny new Ancient Greek campaign, and had turned out, through a complex series of events, as a 29 base Spartan army against a 21 base Theban army, as part of a Spartan civil war (there was one Spartan base on the Theban side, and one of the Spartan kings, so it did make a little sense).

There had been some frantic terrain making just before the battle, as I realised that I needed a table width’s worth of ditches. These random terrain generators can throw up some awkward bits of terrain, and I rolled for ditches and did not have any. I had the resources to construct them, of course, but had never got around to it. So the day or two before the battle deadline were spend cutting out bits of foam, gluing, painting and sticking things to them and so on. I got them done the morning of the battle. I am now fully prepared for the next requirement of ditches.

Anyway, I do not want to give a blow by blow account of the battle, but it did throw up a few things with respect to the rules I was using (my own, naturally. The original purpose of the blog was to record ideas and progress on them).

Firstly, I discovered in myself an urgent urge to simplify. Perhaps I am just getting old and even less fit, but a two hour wargame left me exhausted both physically, from walking around the table (which is in fact my desk, so it is not that big) and mentally from trying to remember which bases were which and what had just happened. I think there is an issue here about markers. I have casualty bases (half size to normal ones) to record ‘shakenness’ in the rules, and I also have single officers mounted on little triangular bases to order indicators. These are, to me, intrinsically aesthetic and work nicely. I cannot abide painting little blobs on my carefully painted bases to indicate the morale or training level of the troops, nor do I like putting chits, blobs, caps or dice with the bases to indicate status.

However, I have discovered that in the rules there is a level of casualty below that of shaken (the recoil) which does have consequences beyond the current turn or phase. This is easily remembered when there are only a few combats, but in a bigger battle such as this one outside Corinth, something more is needed, and I need to think of what to record the recoil as having happened. Suggestions are welcome, but must not include off tables rostas, blobs, plastic caps, poker chits or anything that would not necessarily have appeared on an ancient battlefield.

Still, the next problem involved the infinite push-back. One pair of bases was locked in combat almost all battle, and the Thebans pushed the Spartans back half-way across the table. There were no casualties from this, the results were all recoils. When the Thebans retreated, they simply turned and walked off the edge of the table behind the rest of the Spartan army, as they were so far advanced.

Now this is all well and good, except it felt a little odd. All right, the possibility of getting a string of such results is fairly small, but it does happen. In terms of a phalanx of hoplites, of course, it does break the line (assuming that the bases are supposed to be in a line). I could prevent bases in a group and line from advancing to follow up, preserving the phalanx. Or I could insist on a limit to the number of times two bases can fight without a rest. This would need some accountancy, again, and 
I am back to the problem of how to record it in an aesthetic, visual manner.

There was also a related matter over the ‘turning-in’ of successful hoplite bases. If a base routs its opponents, is it legitimate for it to turn onto the next enemy base along and take it in flank (which would usually defeat it)? Again, it seems to break the line of phalanx (I know that the bases would be articulated, so I might be worrying unnecessarily). This seems to be a problem related to the one discussed here a bit ago about ships. The individual can step into a gap in the phalanx and make a bigger hole. But can a whole unit turn onto the flank of another one and roll up the line? Something feels a little wrong.

The final thing I felt about the whole exercise was that the rules needed an awful lot of simplification. It has been about a year since I last looked at them from the point of view of the wargamer. Gone are all the twiddly bits. I felt, for example, that there were far too many command points about. Both armies were moving forward within two game turns. So a lot of CP generators, such as general’s ability, subgenerals CP rolls and so on have gone.

Gone too are the different values for offensive and defensive ranged and close combat. To those who rail against the idea that hoplites should have a vale for ranged combat, the answer is in the definitions: they cannot shoot. This seems an awful lot simpler than assigning them a zero offensive ranged combat factor. Mind you, re-reading Xenophon I realise that they ought to be permitted to skirmish.

Finally, I have also got rid of the factors for training and morale. I could not remember which was which and, as mentioned, do not want to paint blobs on bases to show the status (aside from the fact that it changes). I did, in this game, try out a long held idea that the morale and training of the troops should only be rolled on first combat. Even Cromwell’s Ironsides had off days. This would have worked if I could have found some way of recalling which was which. It has gone because the effects on the game were marginal, because my reading of ancient history suggests that the effects in real life were marginal, and my poor head cannot cope anyway. It seems to me that in the ancient world (I’m talking Ancient Greece until the early Successors, by the way) only the Spartans could really be described as ’trained’ anyway, and then only before Lecutra. So the complication has gone.

As for the battle, the Spartans won, quite handsomely as it turned out. The ditches were fought over, but the Spartan numbers enabled them to punch through the Theban centre and roll up the right. The Thebans did hold the ditch, however, but that only protected their left. As a campaign game, and considering that it was not really their war, the Thebans withdrew and the Spartans let them go, on the same basis.

Now, the next battle seems likely to be between the Persians and Thracians, and I need to paint up the rest of the latter. A wargamer’s work is never done….

Saturday 22 August 2015

Crisis? What Crisis?

My summer reading has encompassed J. H. Elliott’s ‘Spain, Europe and the Wider World’. This is a collection of (fairly) recent essays and, as such, is wide ranging. A fair bit is on the cultural history of the Spanish court, as opposed to say that of England, France or Brussels. In itself that is quite interesting. As Elliott notes somewhere, even when peace came at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the courts did not stop competing. Their diplomats, even as they negotiated treaties of truces were instructed to look out for neat pieces of artwork for their master’s collections. To some extent, high culture was a continuation of the war, but by other means.

I bet no set of wargame campaign rules include the use of art as a weapon. I do not think that even Tony Bath managed that.

Anyway, in one essay Elliott returns to the question of whether there was a general crisis in the world in the 1640’s, or in the seventeenth century generally. There were, he notes, rebellions aplenty in the middle of the century: Scotland, Ireland, England, Portugal, Catalonia, Naples, Upper Austria among others, and those just in the 1640’s. In spite of the normal instability of early modern societies this does seem to be rather a peak of rebellious activity, and, further, some of the revolts were even successful, such as those of Portugal and England.

These crises were set against the background of the ‘little ice age’ where the weather was terrible. For societies which still relied on traditional agriculture, this was a disaster in terms of peasant society being unable to cope with the stress of poor crop yields and higher prices for food. The courts, also, started to distance themselves from the populations. The elaborate masques of Charles I, or the plays of Philip IV bore little relation to the experience of the populations. Major palace building projects and investment in the visual arts, as noted above, did little to endear the monarch to the population either.

Here, then, we have some of the conditions for a rebellion or revolt. A stressed population, hunger, conspicuous consumption by the elite and a lack of understanding between the people and their leaders. Add in a toxic brew of representational bodies believing that their rights, or activities or, in some cases, religion were under threat, and perhaps we can see why some bits of Europe broke out in armed uprising.

Of course, each rebellion was of a different nature. They regions of revolt differed in detail. The Scots had (despite their king becoming James I) lost a fair bit of autonomy and were governed by a council which took orders from London. In Naples there was a fairly similar lack of leadership. If the leading nobles of the place lost trust in the monarch, then revolt was more likely. And, in what Elliott calls the ‘Europe of composite states’, absentee monarch added to the political problems. When you, as a noble, are dependent on royal largess for your continued prestige, financial probity and increased domain both territorially and politically, and that monarch is a long way away, then you are, perhaps, more likely to take a view that the revolting peasants have reasonable grievances and need a bit of leadership from yourself.

The local conditions then vary, and every rebellion is contingent. However, a consistent point of view about these rebellions might be possible. Paul Kennedy’s ‘Rise and Fall of the Great Powers’ introduces the concept of ‘Imperial Overstretch’. Here, a power (he starts with sixteenth century Spain) has more strategic problems than it has resources to cover. Thus Spain had to face the Turks in the Mediterranean, a chaotic France, and heresy across Europe, the Dutch revolt, war with England and defend her possessions in the Indies (both east and west after taking over Portugal). The overstretch of resources that this implied left the monarchy vulnerable; there simply was not enough money to go around, enough military resource equal to all the tasks.

At a smaller scale, Charles I’s government had a similar problem. It was a composite monarchy of three kingdoms, and two of them were only slightly under control. Of course, the king himself managed quite adequately to upset people in all three kingdoms, but his regime clearly did not have the resources to contain rebellion in any one part of the realm, let alone two or three. Sometimes the wonder of the sixteen-thirties in Britain is how long it took people to get around to revolting.

From a wargamer’s perspective this is all rather useful and interesting. We can consider a wargame, let alone a campaign, as an exercise is resource allocation. We have certain resources – an army – with certain capabilities. We have a set of goals, normally driving the enemy army off the field. We also have an evolving set of threats to our resources and goals, that is, the presence and activity of the opposing army. Within each turn we might have even more limited resources, that is, our ability to order some of our troops to do stuff.

The trick is to work out which are the most important and assign our resources to that item. The complementary approach is to attack our enemy’s resources and overstretch him. If he cannot meet all the threats we pose, then one of those threats should be able to overwhelm him. Thus, while Charles I could, just about, manage in peace time, the moment he needed to raise an army he was broke and needed taxation authorised by Parliament.

From some perspectives, this might sound a bit depressing, or at least culturally conditioned. Kennedy’s main point is that in a war of alliances, the side with the last dollar wins. In  a wargame, the side with the best resource management wins. This starts top sound rather like wargaming by accountancy. Where we might ask, is the heroism, the brilliant manoeuvre, the defining battle of the age? Or is modern wargaming simply a game of resource allocation and accountancy?

Saturday 15 August 2015

The Silly Season

Most of the world seems to be on holiday, including blog readers. The rest of the world seems to wish it were on holiday, or back on holiday. I do have a feeling, however, that this might exclude any antipodean readers. On the other hand, why would anyone not want to be on holiday, at any time.

Anyweay, it does seem to be rather the silly season, and so it is rather time, I feel, for a rather silly post, or at least, a post sillier than usual. As a wargamer, of course, this has to be something to do with warfare and wargaming, which one might argue is not silly at all (or at least, war is a serious and deadly affair for those involved). As a historical wargamer, of course, it also has to be something silly by at least loosely historical.

Having considered all this, and bearing in mind the hours I spent procrastinating while reading the old alt.history.what-if newsgroup, I have come to the conclusion that one of the silliest bits of near history was, in fact, Operation Sealion, the invasion of Britain that never was. The issue around Sealion, of course, usually revolves about what could be changed historically to make it viable, to make the invasion feasible, at least without the intervention of alien space bats. It was something of a permanent feature of the alternate history group.

I do not, of course, have a problem with alternate history. Historical wargaming is, after all, a fairly broad application of the practice, and, as Jeremy Black remarks somewhere, it can be useful as a check on what happened and a reminder, at least, that history is contingent. To make Sealion work, however, we have to bend history so much that it seems to have broken.

That might seem to be a sweeping statement (or it may not, most readers probably know an awful lot more about this that I do; I am not a World War Two wargamer, as I have mentioned). Let me try, briefly, to summarize why it is highly unlikely that Sealion would have been anything other than a disastrous defeat for the Axis.

Firstly, of course, we have to obtain air superiority, at least over the beaches. It is known that the Luftwaffe did not manage that in the Battle of Britain, although the switch to bombing cities rather than going after the fighter bases is usually blamed for this by apologists. However, it is clear that even if the Luftwaffe had managed to serious damage the RAF, the fighters would simply have been withdrawn to bases outside bomber range and kept in hand to oppose the invasion. Air superiority might look like it had been gained, but the invaders might be in for a large surprise on the beaches.

Secondly, there is the issue of command of the sea. As an initial point here, the Germans had no suitable invasion craft, and were having to bodge up Rhine barges and the like to carry troops, supplies and equipment. An issue here is both the low speed of the invasion force and the low seaboard, meaning that, say, a Royal Navy destroyer passing at twenty knots could, quite possibly, have sunk a barge without firing a shot. Secondly, of course, there is the issue that the Royal Navy’s job was to stop invasions of Britain. The home fleet, since at least Stuart days, was tasked with the very role of preventing invasion. That is why it was there. An extremely potent naval force was lurking, roughly two days steaming distance from the putative invasion beaches.

Of course, minefields and aircraft can damage such a fleet, but there are two things to bear in mind. While some naval assets were sunk off Dunkirk, it is a lot easier to hit a stationary target than a moving, zig-zagging one. Secondly, there would probably be decisive combat air patrols over the fleet which could rather spoil one’s aim. U-boats could also be deployed, but they did find it a bit uncomfortable in relatively shallow waters. Some home fleet assets would certainly get through and ruin the day of the invaders. And this ignores that fact that the RN had significant assets within the cordon of minefields the Germans planned.

It could be argued that the invaders would have surprise, and that would suffice. Indeed, it is also true, but once landed, it would quickly become clear where the invaders were and, perhaps more importantly, where they were expecting re-supply. Given this, it could be expected that a concentration of naval and air assets against the re-supply vessels (assuming there were that many left; there are significant problems here which I do not have space to describe). The invasion divisions would be fairly quickly cut off on the beaches. Even paratroops need air resupply, which is predicated on at least local air superiority which, again, once it is clear where they are, is unlikely to be forthcoming.

Of course, crack German invasion divisions would be pitted against defeated, demoralised and ill-equipped British divisions. The only problem here is that the majority of the army in England was not from the BEF and, even if it had been, against a lightly armed invasion force (without most of its tanks, artillery and transport) it might well have been effective at least at causing the invaders to use their supplies up a lot faster than they could be replenished. After all, if the Germans had managed to land a few tanks, the British could simply have let them drive along until they ran out of fuel, so long as stockpiles had been removed. A fuel-less tank is known as a vulnerable pill-box.

There are a whole load of other reasons why Sealion would have become an embarrassing dead duck (beached whale?). To make it successful, either Alien Space Bats would be required or the German government would have had to decide that war with and a successful invasion of Great Britain and her Empire was the specific aim. And that was politically hugely unlikely; after all, the UK government was trying to avoid war up to 1938. A build-up of, say, landing craft in Kiel would probably have ended Appeasement rather sooner than that.

I hope that none of that needed explaining to the assembled readership. As I say, it is the silly season, but there is a slightly more serious point underlying this: at what point does a scenario become unhistorical?

All at Sea

As you might have noticed from the previous post, every once in a while I discover in myself a liking for naval wargaming. Quite why this is so I am not sure. Perhaps it is due to long days as a child reading about Nelson, or school visits to HMS Victory (I was bought up a reasonable coaches’ drive from Portsmouth. I suppose that there may be other influences, as well, like the relative unpopularity of naval wargaming and, even, its natural place within campaign games as opposed to the one off wargame.

If I examine my shelves I find books on many different aspects of naval history, from Ancient Greece, as mentioned last time, to the Armada, the influence of the Navy on the English Civil Wars and then through the eighteenth century to Nelson at the glory days of British naval supremacy. It is a bit hard to believe that there is really so little of wargaming interest in this, but so often naval wargames are reduced to a somewhat desultory looking affair of a few ships shooting away at each other. I suppose the main question here is whether naval wargames are really the poor relation of land based games.

According to the wargame campaign bible, ‘Setting Up a Wargames Campaign’ they do tend to be. The chapter on Naval Campaigns remarks that sea transport in the previous chapters has just been an adjunct to land warfare. This is something of a shame, as he goes on to describe, taking in the Peloponnesian wars, which often focussed on the supply of grain to Athens via the Black Sea, and the Punic Wars where the Roman challenge for naval superiority has to have some degree of interest.

I do have, in my cupboard, extensive fleets of ‘Renaissance’ galleys and English and Spanish fleets for the Armada period and also for the Anglo-Dutch wars. I do confess that, painted and based as they may be, I have not used them extensively, despite the interest of the period, both my personal predilections and the intrinsic fascination. After all, Geoffrey Parker identified the advent of the all gun naval vessel as the most important single factor in the European conquest of the rest of the world. For all the naval power of Indian, South East Asia and China in the fifteenth century, they did not produce ships and a navy that could stand up to an East Indiaman.

That comment returns us to the reason for considering naval campaigns. As part of my work, for example, I have been examining in some detail (not for purposes of research, I admit, but for teaching) the triangular slave trade of the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The wealth of nations, particularly the British Empire was, in large part, built on this trade. It is not a particularly pretty bit of history, and no-one, European, African leader or Caribbean planter comes out of the story well, but the interest for my purposes is in the naval aspects.

For example, in the Liverpool slave trade (and if you want to check, the information I use comes from shows significant dips during times of international conflict: the Seven Years war, American Revolution and less so during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. This suggests quite strongly to me that the blockade of the French navy during the latter wars, and the relative paucity of privateering, enabled the Liverpool trade, at least, to flourish. By contrast, Bristol never seems to have recovered from the American Revolution. I am sure there is an interesting bit of historical research to undertake here as to why this might be. Quite possibly it was due to the different routes taken by the voyages. From Liverpool the natural route is to north about Ireland, while the route from Bristol takes you directly past French ports, and hence the increased risk of running into privateers. But I do not actually know.

The point here is that, given the slave trade was so lucrative, the fact that British voyages could continue while the French trade did not suggests that the blockade of French ports was about an awful lot more than simply bottling French military naval units up in port. If you look at the recorded voyages of the French slave trade (cantered on Nantes), the record shows pretty well no voyages at all during the period in question. The cost of that to the French state must have been considerable. There was only a brief period, during the Peace of Amiens, when the French trade revived.

I suppose the point here is that naval wargames only really make sense in the context of a larger narrative, a bigger picture about the aims and objectives of the forces on either side. Trafalgar, for example, only makes sense in the context of the blockade and ideas about breaking it and invading England. The question of whether the latter was even slightly feasible is a bit moot, of course, but that would only arise at the end of a process which included the defeat on the Royal Navy blockading squadrons.

Perhaps this is why I am actually more interested in earlier wars. By the end of the eighteenth century British naval mastery was, in some senses, pretty well a given. While other countries could, from time to time, threaten it, and technological advances would eventually undermine it, the chances of a major British loss to the French (for it was manly they) in actual combat was not huge. Of course, if the Spithead mutinies had been exploited, things could have been different, but as it was, in wargaming terms, it would take a major and unlikely defeat of the fighting units to actually prevent the British naval supremacy continuing. After all, the country lost the American Revolutionary war and still managed to continue maritime supremacy.

All in all, then, the interest for me is in how the British managed to acquire naval supremacy. For example, in the seventeenth century Charles I build a ship called ‘Sovereign of the Seas’ and attempted to enforce a rule that other nations would acknowledge this sovereignty. They did not, but that did not stop Cromwell and Charles II fighting major wars about it. Given that under Charles I Algerian pirates were raiding Cornwall, there must have been a significant change in naval achievement over the fifty years covering the accession of Charles I to the end of Anglo-Dutch wars.

But perhaps I will save that for another time.

Saturday 8 August 2015

The Black Ships

I have been reading about the Athenian navy. John Hales’ book ‘Lords of the Sea’ is an interesting, populist account of the rise and fall of Athens seen from the point of view of the navy. For example, he argues that it was the navy, or at least, the employment of thousands of lower class Athenian citizens that was the causal factor in the growth of Athenian democracy. If this is the case (and I am no expert classicist) then the Athenian navy could be claimed as an idea from the world of warfare which projected back into other worlds. A trireme, he suggests, was a true leveller. The one hundred and seventy rowers had to be in tome no matter which class they came from.

That is in the nature of something of a digression. What I really wanted to talk about is the colour of the Athenian navy. As is inevitable for a wargamer reading a book about, well, almost anything, I have started to imagine what having a Greek navy would look like. There are a number of aspects to this, but the first issue is what colour the ships would be.

The fact is that the ships should be black. Now, my mind’s eye does not really do black ships. Ships from the age of sail and before were made of wood and should look wood coloured. We can of course argue as to what colour wood is, exactly. It can vary from light to dark, and, of course, weathered wood is a different colour again. Nevertheless, in my painting of a variety of wooden vessels, somehow brown, of various shades and hues, has come to the fore.

And yet Greek poetry, from Homer onwards, indicates that Greek ships were black. They may have been Athens’ wooden walls, but the ships timbers themselves were black. The blackness comes from the fact that the timbers were coated with pitch, to preserve them. If the shipwrights could get hold of it, they are alternatively painted with tar. Now again we can argue over the precise meaning of black. It could be anything from a rather faded grey to the blackest of, um, pitch black. But I can certainly put away my ‘Natural Wood’ paint tin for another day.

Here, of course, I have a problem. Black ships just do not look right. I can manage modern ships which are grey, with occasional rust spots and dazzle paint. But wooden ships are wooden, and should look it. I appear to be suffering from some sort of cognitive dissonance, here. I know the material is wood, and I know that the material can be painted, but I also seem to think that wooden ships should look wooden, and that is brown not black, even if I know that they have been painted with pitch.

That is the first problem with my Greek navy, quite aside from the fact that I do not have any Greek naval vessels. The next problem is the sheer size of the fleets. I do not think that this is a problem unique to ancient navies, by the way. As I recall, the British and Dutch fleets in the seventeenth century were a fair size as well. The problem is how to wargame such an armada (the Armada was pretty big too).

I think the issue is this. In a land wargame we can pretty well choose our basic unit at the level we want to wargame. The basic unit can thus be an individual, a squad, platoon, company, battalion, regiment, brigade, division, wing or army, and I suspect you can find wargame rules to cover all of these levels. Thus, depending on the tactical level we wish to play at, we can select our unit size and get on with it, tackling the emergent characteristics at the appropriate level.

For naval wargaming, the obvious unit is the ship, the individual fourth rate, trireme or whatever. The thing is that although the navy can be divided into higher level  units, such as squadrons and divisions, the basic unit of operation remains the individual ship.

For example, often in accounts of ancient naval action we have lines of ships which face each other. So long as the lines hold, the action is muted. There is manoeuver, to attempt to flank the enemy, or brute force to try to get through them. If one of the lines charges, however, this unit level breaks down. Ships have different sailing / rowing capabilities. Some outdistance others. The faster ones become vulnerable to being rammed by alert captains on the other side. The action is no longer at a level of a number of units of ships, but at individual ship-to-ship activity.

The problem is that as a wargamer, I want to have my cake and eat it. With an Athenian fleet of say, one hundred and fifty triremes, I need, to make the game sensible, to group them in units, squadrons, if you well. But to do the determining ship to ship stuff, I need a much finer grain of detail. I cannot even really say, as we do in land wargames, that the unit is doing stuff but remains a coherent object on the battlefield until it runs away. Naval units do not remain that coherent anyway. The basic unit reverts, more or less quickly, to the individual ship.

The alternative is to have a sort of ‘stands for’ view. One ship stands for twenty. My two hundred strong Athenian fleet is represented by seven or eight galleys which act as a trireme would be expected to act. This might work, but on the other hand it does seem to miss the point slightly. These were big actions. Representing the Greek fleet at Salamis with a dozen models would be like representing the Royalist army at Naseby with fifty toy soldiers.

So I admit to being doubly baffled, here. I am in difficulty over the colour of the (as yet hypothetical) ship models, and dubious about the rules, or even the scale of the rules, by which the actions could be fought out. The only positive I can see is that the water is usually described as ‘the wine dark sea’. Now wine I can deal with.

Saturday 1 August 2015

The Jacobite Campaigns

I have been reading, not for any good reason at all, a book about the Jacobite campaigns, the ’15, ’19, and ’45. I have little or no intention of actually wargaming the period, but it came to pass that I felt I needed to read something that was not aimed at doing something specifically from the period, just to read some history for pleasure.

The book in question is by Jonathon Oates, and is about the response of the British government to the threats, or perceived threats from the Jacobites and their allies. For example, he comments on the deployment of the British army, noting that a fair quantity of its strength was around London and on the south coast. The reasons for this were firstly, it was perceived that any government that lost control of the capital had lost the war. Charles I quit London in the 1640’s and only returned as a prisoner. James II lost control of the capital and the army defending it, and so had to leave the city, the throne and the country.

Secondly, of course, there was the anxiety about the French, which is a perennial bit of British (or, at least, English) strategic thinking. There is always a problem, given the location of the British Isles that just as your army is defeating the rebels in the north or the west, the French will arrive on the south coast and cause you a good degree of embarrassment. Thus, for the Jacobite campaigns, a fair bit of the strength of the British army was tied down in the south.

There were, of course, further complications. In the ’45, at least, the British army was also fighting on continental Europe. This had a number of consequences, mostly along the lines of an inability to shuffle troops around as might have been desired. On the other hand, troops were borrowed from allies. This had some irritating aspects, of course, like the Dutch troops sent because they could not fight the French (having been besieged and surrendered to them) who had to be withdrawn as soon as the Jacobite – French alliance was confirmed. There was also the fact that it took time to withdraw troops from the Continent, even though with the Royal Nay’s command of the sea they could be moved close to the actual war zone. Several battalions sailed straight into Newcastle, for example.

There is also some information about the strategy and tactics of the various sides. Obviously, given the book’s focus, there is not much about the Jacobite strategy, but there are one or two sidelights. The main, somewhat amusing, observation is that the Jacobites would never have wasted men, time and material besieging Fort William unsuccessfully if they had not had a couple of siege guns. Having the equipment dictated the strategy and, quite possibly, cost the campaign more than it gained.

The second main idea lying behind the book is the activity of militia and volunteer units. These are often disparaged by historians, who observe, quite correctly, that they achieved little and were no match for the Jacobite army in the field. Oates’ response to this is to admit it, but to go further and observe that the volunteers were never meant to match the Jacobites in the field. Their role was to dissuade risings in other parts of the country and so let the regular army dealt with Prince Charles and his troops. Granted, if there were serious signs of an uprising, the volunteers and militia needed some assistance from the regulars, but in the main they were there simply to hold the land, protect their homes, cities and people.

If the militia or volunteer forces had met the Jacobite field army in battle, the result would almost certainly have been very messy for the former. And historians and, no doubt, wargamers, would have been lining up to say ‘I told you so.’ But that is not exactly the point. If we subtract the volunteers and militias from the loyalist account, we probably get a much larger number of pro-Jacobite uprisings in the country, a situation which the regular army would have found much harder to deal with.

Now, as I said above, I am not intending to rush into yet another period, but the whole did get me thinking a bit. Firstly, of course, there is the question of how one could wargame such a campaign. It would be quite possible to track the main armies, even down to the battalion level. But what about the activities of the volunteers and militias? Could that be abstracted away; indeed, should it? The problem is that at a low-ish level, there were skirmishes, night marches and general confusion and misinformation flying about which led to a few clashes, but mostly to volunteer units racing around the country and nipping rebellion in the bud. Not much in terms of wargamable action, but plenty of military activity.

Secondly, of course, there is the problem that the Jacobites are unlikely to actually win the war. Of course, they had a chance but, given the strategic and tactical options available in 1745, they were not that likely to win. But as wargamers, unless we are solo players who want to simply follow history, would like something that is a bit more evenly matched. This might mean adding in the continental context, in which case a rebellion in part of the British Isles suddenly becomes a major European campaign, or at least adding in a bit of something extra. The obvious point of departure here is a French landing in Southern England.

Of course, purists might throw up their hands in horror and argue that the French were never that interested in invasion. The true historical wargamer might object to an Anglo-French battle somewhere near Sittingbourne, and ask how close our scenario might be to history. One answer is to shrug and get on with it; another might be to observe that this is what the contemporary scene was concerned about.

A final response might be simply to change the game period. Take it away from the Eighteenth Century and make it, say, a game where the Romans were the British, the Picts the Jacobites and the French a rebels Roman Emperor.

Then, perhaps, we could have a wargame without worrying about historical accuracy.