Saturday 22 July 2017

Missing: One Armada

I mentioned before that I had made a bit of a return to the “renaissance” side of wargaming, and had started to track down and re-base some toys to yield an Elizabethan army. As yet the question of their enemy has been left unresolved. The English, in the time of Elizabeth T., fought the Scots, French, Irish and Spanish, and allied with Scots, French and Dutch. In anticipation of deciding on an enemy, I have purchased supplies of plastic card for further adventures in basing.

The toy soldiers are quite old, Irregular 6 mm. I note that Irregular do still make them, which is gratifying in case I need any reinforcements. On the other hand, I find that having a table 80 cm square means that I no longer have to worry about increasing the sizes of my armies. Twenty bases or so is the maximum I need.

The downside of this, of course, is that while looking through my stocks of “renaissance” armies, I came across some interesting forces. I discovered 16th Century Poles and Muscovites, for example. Immediately my wargamer’s mind’s eye was away thinking about sweeping cavalry moves. Fortunately the spasm passed, and I continued with the job in hand, that of searching for a navy.

This is where the story gets a little odd, or at least, where I start to show my considerable age. I had, years ago, a number of “renaissance” (a horrid and inaccurate term, hence the scare quotes) navies, from both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. (There you are, by the end of the seventeenth century the early Enlightenment was well underway; renaissance it wasn’t). I also recall having said navies in various scales, all of them fairly small.

The fact of the matter is that I cannot find most of them. I have put them away somewhere safe, evidently. I have searched in my cupboard and in the crates of deeper storage, but of Armadas and seventeenth century Anglo-Dutch wars fleets there remains no sign. I think I must be getting old.

Still, I did find some nice-ish fleets which are next on my list of things to do. So far as I can identify them, they are Hallmark 1:2400 scale galleys and galleons. And very nice they are as well, it seems to me. I do not even seem to have painted them too badly. A few have been dismasted during our last house move (which was over a decade ago – I have been away from the “renaissance” for too long), but no serious damage was noted on a cursory glance.

The Estimable Mrs P was sympathetic (or, possibly, was humouring the old fool) and immediately offered to buy some reinforcements for what I had found (now you know why she is the Estimable Mrs P), but, rather to her surprise (and, in fact, to mine) I demurred, saying I had better check what I had already. Fortunately, again, for me, they seem still to be in production. I had better try to work out what they are before splashing out and lumbering (yes, wooden ships) myself with more painting.

Anyway, I am not sure that you really wish to hear about my struggles with memory and small ships. The question which arises with the Elizabethan era, of course, is whether the Armada could have succeeded. This is a tricky question, and something that is surely worthy of a wargame or several. The problem is, where to start.

Initially, there is the Spanish strategic dilemma. Phillip II of Spain was presented with two rather good plans for invading England. One, by the Admiral, the Marquis of Santa-Cruz, envisaged a direct assault by a fleet with an army on board launched from Spain. The other, by the Duke of Parma, Phillip’s preeminent general, suggested a lightning strike by the army of the Netherlands across the Channel. This, of course, gave Phillip a dilemma. Which plan should he choose, and who would he upset by doing so?

In the event, the plan was an amalgam of the two. The Armada, with an army on board, would sail up the Channel and escort Parma’s army across it. This did have the advantage of providing protection for Parma’s troops on the crossing, and requiring a less powerful army to be dispatched from Spain, and hence a smaller Armada. However, it did require decent communication between the fleet and the army, which is something that has often been notoriously difficult to establish, even with modern communication networks. Secondly, of course, the Spanish immediately lost the element of surprise which Parma’s plan envisaged.

Of course, we know how it turned out. Parma could not board his troops and get them into the Channel in the time the Armada was on station, and he had no inshore fighting craft to escort them past the Dutch vessels anyway. Secondly, as with all invasions of Britain, the Royal Navy only really had to remain in being to thwart it. The Armada was not sent out to fight the English navy, nor was it equipped to. The defeat of the English navy was not part of the plan. If Parma could get his men ashore, then the navy would surrender along with the rest of the country.

So, even ignoring the English land based resistance options, we have some interesting scenarios here. There is, of course, the Armada as history records it. We could see if it does any better than the original. But then as wargamers we have at least two counter-factual scenarios, plus one where the two are combined but independent. This latter one is intriguing. The English were not made of ships. If the Armada had assaulted, say, Plymouth, it would have drawn a fair bit of the English navy to the south-west, possibly leaving the way open for Parma to slip across and land in Kent. I am not sure how this would have gone, but having the bulk of the English army still in its home counties would be a positive boon in these circumstances, I should think.


  1. How about the term 'Early Modern' or is that too broad a sweep? Or if talking purely about the military history, Pike and Shot Era (setting aside it might not characterise all warfare of the period)? I suppose '16th/17th centuries' is probably the most accurate but it doesn't trip off the tongue.

    1. Aye, I've seen various wrangles about the name for the period. Eventually the email list was named 'Renaissance, Early Modern, Pike and Shot' or REMPAS for short. I suppose there is no good answer.

    2. Grief, I'd rather have something 'a bit wrong' like Renaissance than REMPAS. Sounds like some sort of community services supplier.

    3. The current email list is called RenWars. The most recent post is about the Ottoman Wars in 1683. Maybe 'Ren' means something other than 'renaissance'?

      But there does not seem to be a good name for the period. Mostly 'early modern' is used, but that too is vague: 'Early modern wargaming' sounds like a morning game.

  2. I have fond memories of my one brief foray into naval wargaming in my youth. IT was fostered by finding a few 1:1200 Armada ships in a shop. After buying all 4.... I expanded by buying "large galleys" in 1:1200 and using them for some form of small galley. Upon acquiring a copy of a set of WRG rules for 16thC combined ops I added some H&R 1:300 spanish and moors. (OK they didn't sell Moors so I "paint converted" various likely things).

    1. Those things, I find, are a lot more fun than we get with doing it the 'right' way with the 'right' forces. Either we just enjoy the game better or sentimentalism is rife in my memory.