Saturday 1 December 2018

That Life Thing

Greetings, O Faithful Reader,

Just a note to warn you that Polemarch will be offline for a while, due to the pressure of real life intruding on important things like wargaming.

Still, I will be back, but probably not until February 2019. It isn't lack of ideas for writing about, but lack of time to write about the ideas before I forget them.

Anyway, check back in a couple of months and hopefully I'll be drivelling on here again.

Saturday 24 November 2018

Settled Dust

It has been, as I am sure you might have noticed, the ‘season of remembrance’. It has also been, as most people cannot have failed to have been informed, the centenary of the end of the First World War, at least in the sense that the shooting stopped. Quite a few wargamer blogs that I follow noted the event, which is a good thing. But the whole has set me pondering, which is often a bad thing.

Still, an awful lot of energy has gone into the commemoration of events of the First World War, even though many of them have been kind of obvious ones: the start, the Somme, Passchendaele and the end, although the start of the battle of Amiens did get a mention. Quite a few other major events were downgraded or ignored quite widely, such as Jutland and the Russian Revolution. Interestingly, my hometown has a war memorial which commemorates its fallen from 1914 b- 1919. I recall being told at school it was because the local regiment had been sent to Archangel after the end of hostilities to intervene in the Russian Civil War in favour of the Whites.

A local village here has big signs us ‘XY Remembers’, together with fairly large numbers of knitted poppies. I might be a bit sensitive to language, and a bit of a pedant, but it did make me wonder ‘Remembers what?’ After all, no-one actually remembers fighting in the First World War any more. A great deal has been made of the last Tommies who died recently. But the point is that few people will actually remember the fact of the war at all. Anyone who does will be well over a hundred years old themselves.

History does not quite work in the same way as popular remembrance does. While most of the country is ‘remembering’ the fallen, the ‘heroes who died so we may be free’, history is wondering exactly what all this meant and means. After all, there was a piece on the BBC News website recently observing that the evening of Armistice Day was the occasion of a big fancy dress party in the Albert Hall. The generation which had survived that war wanted to celebrate still being alive. The piece also noted that around 88% of British troops were not killed in the war. It was only with the darkening of political and economic clouds at the end of the 1920’s that the event became more sombre.

As I am sure you are aware, there are various strands of historiography about the start, course and end of the First World War. An article in November’s History Today (Boff, J. 1918: Year of Victory and Defeat, History Today November 2018, 68, 11, 24-35) notes that Operation Michae was probably the second biggest German mistake of the war. Ludendorff did not have clearly defined political and strategic aims, and therefore, at any defeat for the allies was unlikely to break the Anglo-French Alliance; further, significant US reinforcements were arriving.

Incidentally, the biggest German mistake of the war is usually noted as starting it in the first place. The Schlieffen plan was not going to work as the timetable for the German right was never going to work against any but practically zero resistance. Germany did not have to go to war. The fact that it did is usually put down to a sort of bone-headedness and over-optimism in German High Command from the Kaiser downwards.  On the other hand, I think Niall Ferguson argues that economically Germany had to go to war or risk being out-produced by the Western powers.  

Anyway, Boff’s point is that by November 1918 the German army had been defeated on the battlefield. The stab in the back theory was politically useful in the 1920’s and 1930’s but is historically untenable. The British army, in particular, had learnt how to conduct modern warfare and, with increasing technological and numerical advantages, could out think and outpunch the Germans, switching axes of attack when the German reinforcements arrived, maintaining surprise and momentum. Incidentally, no-one I have seen has mentioned what I thought was the crucial bit of the 100 days campaign, which was the severing of the German north-south railway line, at which point German divisions north of the point of disruption were out of supply and forced to surrender. Maybe I imagined it.

Anyway, the point is that, probably beyond historians and wargamers, the myths of the First World War are entrenched in our minds. Lions led by donkeys, Oh What a Lovely War and the war poetry of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon et al have seen to the ‘fact’ that all the Tommies mown down in their thousands are heroes, all the generals are idiots, and the whole class system of the British is shown for the folly that it was.

Boff argues that the British army had learnt to fight a modern war, and also to learn as it did so. Logistics was solid; commanders and subordinates experienced and permitted to get on with the job. Morale was high. Britain worked well with her allies, both internationally and within the Empire. British politicians had a good idea of what the war was for and the necessary outcomes: Germany must be defeated. This sort of political realism seems sadly lacking today. It was also, according to Boff, lacking on the German side. Starting the war was a mistake. Continuing it after the 1914 defeat on the Marne was another. The 1918 spring offensives were nothing but the forlorn hope of a country down to its last reserves of manpower, material and ideas.

In 1918 the British army played a key role in defeating, on a continental battlefield, an enemy who had set the military standards since the mid-nineteenth century. This was achieved by Britain, the Empire, and France, in alliance with others, but it was, on the whole, British power that was being projected around the world to pick off German allies and isolate and defeat the Kaiser. This, we do not seem to remember. Maybe we should start and maybe, after that, we might learn something about Britain, Europe and the world.

Saturday 17 November 2018

Saving The World

The more astute among you may have noted that there has been an eerie silence hanging around the fortifications of Chateau Polemarch in the last few weeks. There have been no snide remarks about scales other than God’s own. No bafflement expressed as to how rules actually work. No pointless and poor photographs of made up battles or pseudo-narratives of what is purported to be going on.

Now I cannot, of course, go into details about the reasons for this silence. It is not that I have no ideas for posts (all right, who shouted ‘Shame’?), but I have, of course, been off saving the world. Your mild-mannered correspondent is, in real life, a superhero who has been off saving the world for the last fortnight or so. The desperate deeds of daring do which it entailed have not, alas, been widely reported in the press, but would make a very fine scenario for my favourite role-playing games of all time, Flashing Blades.

You might think that the world doesn’t seem any better, or more saved than it did two weeks ago, but let me assure you that, if it were not for my intervention things would be a lot worse. That’s the problem with being a superhero, of course. No-one notices unless you don’t do it. And no-one thanks you if you do. I might get on and establish universal peace, harmony and prosperity, along with the rule of law, but I confess to being a little tired now, and so really it is for someone else to add the finishing touches. You will have my full support.


Actually, in all honesty, I have just not been very well. Nothing exciting, no blue light rushes to Accident and Emergency, no cruel nurses ordering me out of bed or anything. Just a series of enervating colds which have made ordinary life hard enough to sustain and knocked writing, hobbies and more or less everything else out of the frame. Still, I am now recovering and, superhero activities aside, normal life is slowly beginning to reassert itself. This includes writing annoying blog posts, so here goes.


In September’s History Today (68, 9, 36-41) is an interesting article by Robert Crowcroft ‘A Tiger in the Grass: The Case for Applied History.’ This is an article, I suspect, designed to provoke, but I did find it interesting and wondered about its application to wargaming. I probably do not have room here to discuss those implications, but they might be worth a think about.

Crowcroft’s point is that history is not useless, although it cannot be applied blindly to today’s situations. It is, however, the only repository of what works and what does not that we have. While the problems we face now are not the problems people faced in the past, there is continuity as well as change. He could have quoted (I think) Mark Twain who said something along the lines of ‘History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.’

History can inform decisions, but it is not a predictive science. The only predictive sciences around are the physical ones, and even then the predictions are of a limited kind and not really much to use anyone outside the limited scope of the science. Crowcroft notes that of all modern statesmen the one to use history the most to inform decision making was Henry Kissinger, who held a doctorate in the subject. Crowcroft notes that ‘a Kissinger is almost unthinkable today.’ I think he means that someone in a position of great power who is informed by the past is unthinkable. After all, the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Kissinger made Tom Lehrer give up comedy, stating that satire could not compete with what was going on in the world.

History, according to Crowcroft’s argument, is ‘policy-relevant’. He also notes that of all institutions that operate in modern liberal democracies, it is the armed forces that consistently apply history. They study past battles and campaigns to prepare for the future. So long as they remember that each war is different, and the next one is not going to be like the last, all is relatively well. History is not a set of recipes to obtain a given outcome. It can only be reasoned from.

And so, of course, to wargaming. As an amateur who would be rejected as an applicant to the military for many different reasons, I doubt if my interest in history and wargaming will bear any weight. But history does give us a few hints as to what might be going on militarily. For example, Montgomery is famous for the quote: ‘There are three laws of warfare. I forget the first two, but the third is “Don’t start a land war in Asia”’. History from Herodotus on validates that law, I think. Sabre rattling in the Pacific today may not be the most helpful attitude.

Secondly, geography does not change all that much, and human nature changes rather less than that. While what is considered strategically important might change depending on the context and circumstances (would anyone defend Thermopylae today?), pinch points still exist and their defence is to be considered. All this, of course, depends on decisions on both sides not simply to drop a tactical nuclear weapon on the pinch point in question, although considerations of holding the moral high ground may well still have an influence.

So, history can, and should, alert us to both the change and the continuity of warfare. In my fevered state, the only pondering about wargaming I have managed has been to read through the old DBM and DBR army lists. I could go on and on about army lists and their use and abuse, but I’ll not here. The purpose behind it was to consider a comment I read recently (before I was struck down by the lurgy) to the end that an army is a reflection of the society from which it comes. I think this is broadly true, although there are exceptions and, often, when those exceptions are found the army and its society can become unstable. Perhaps an example would be the later Roman Empire.

Saturday 27 October 2018

The Original Military Revolution

In many, if not most, areas of intellectual life, it is worth returning to the sources, at least so far as is possible, to see what the original protagonists actually said, rather than what they are reported as saying. Thus, one of the tenets of twentieth-century Roman Catholic theology has been ressourcement, the idea of a ‘return to the sources’.  In that case, it meant a re-reading of the sources of theology – Scripture, patristic writers and other theologians – a deeper and richer engagement with the past, not the just past as represented by ‘secondary’ sources.

Often, when such engagement is undertaken, odd results, or at least unexpected outcomes can occur. The source is found not to have said what is usually claimed, or at least, not exactly. People, even professional researchers who ought to know better, can often rely on hearsay. Often this is in peripheral matters, at least to the thrust of the argument, but such things can be picked up and propagated. I suppose that one example would be the Bayeux tapestry and the ensuing story about arrows, kings and eyes. Incorrect original assumptions can lead to a whole tangle of historiography which can be really difficult to unravel.

Therefore, having started a ponder on the idea of a military revolution, I suppose it is a bit incumbent on me to pursue the idea back to the source, or at least one of the sources. Fortunately, in this age of relatively cheap publishing and the internet, that is not such a hard task. Having tracked down the origins of the idea, it is then possible to see what has been done with it and the validity of the interpretations as well as the validity of the original statement. In the case of the military revolution, the idea (in modern historiography, at least) came from an inaugural lecture delivered in 1956:

Roberts, M., 'The Military Revolution 1560-1660', in Rogers, C. J. (ed.), The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe (Oxford: Westview, 1995), 13-35.

Roger’s book manages to collect together a large number of interesting writings on the military revolution in the time frame of interest, including pro- and anti- views and a lot of historical nuancing. It should also be pointed out that Roberts was not entirely original in his idea – Oman, apparently, in the second volume of his medieval art of war books, observed that there was a military revolution in the sixteenth century.

Be that as it may, Roberts’ thesis was that there was a change in warfare between the mid-sixteenth and the mid-seventeenth centuries and that this occurred through the offices of two people, Prince Maurice of Nassau and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. Maurice started it, Roberts argued, by introducing standing units with a uniform drill, maintaining them throughout the year so they could drill, reducing the size of infantry units to handier battalions from the massive and unwieldy tercios of his Spanish foes and increasing the firepower of such units. As warfare in the Low Countries was mainly positional, there was a massive increase in the size of armies as many more infantry were needed to hold positions and to lay siege to enemy held locations.

These changes, Roberts suggests, were taken up by Gustavus Adolphus in the earlier part of the seventeenth century and fused with the Swedish experience of war against Poland, where cavalry was decisive and charged at the gallop. Prior to this, western cavalry, especially the German pistol armed reiter, was a rather lack-lustre fellow who trotted up to the enemy and fired a pistol or two at him before retiring to reload. The Swedes re-instated cavalry charging with their sword in hand and reserving pistols for close combat.

The Swedish way of war was then propagated throughout Protestant Europe via the wars in Germany where Swedish allies and mercenaries learnt the advantage of the system. It was eventually picked up by the French and led to their stunning victory over the Habsburgs at the end of the Thirty Years War, leaving Sweden and France as the victors. All this was due to the military revolution.

Well, maybe, and maybe not. There are a number of broad issues with the idea, as well as disputes of detail which I will leave aside for the moment. The first thing to note, however, is that the idea became quite widely accepted in the historiography of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, quite quickly. It took around twenty years for a serious challenge to emerge to it. As I mentioned in a comment the other week, it is an attractive idea and means that we have to do less thinking and, perhaps, less grubbing around in archives. We can wave our big idea and get on with other stuff.

At the heart of the matter, as again I think I mentioned, is the idea of a revolution. Look again at Roberts’ title. Can something lasting one hundred years really be classed as a revolution? Normally, revolutions are quite quick – the English, French and American revolutions lasted a matter of years, and were, in fact, transfers of political power. The military revolution was not of this nature. Military power stayed, more or less, with those powers that already had it in Europe. The French might have had a few wobbles, but they were internal political-religious problems. The Spanish encountered the problems of imperial overstretch but were still, in fact, capable of fighting the military revolution-ed French forces to a halt. The Swedes expanded and contracted. The English became a mid-sized power.

None of this was precisely a revolution. Even within the military sphere, there were other things going on – the spread of gunpowder fortresses, the changes in weaponry, and so on. Those things beloved of wargamers and wargame rule writers, such as the differences between Swedish, Dutch and Spanish infantry deployments actually seem (to me at least) to have made little difference on the European battlefield.

Parker, the first critic of the idea of the military revolution, suggested that its biggest impact was beyond Europe. In Europe, the differences tended to cancel out. In the wider world, Europe came to dominate, having been a fairly minor global player before the sixteenth century. Maybe military revolutions work when cultures clash.

Saturday 20 October 2018

Reading Military History

As something of a follow up to the ‘what is military history?’ post, I have been reading some of my older military history books. As a wargamer of global pretensions in the early modern world, I have a few, albeit not the most up to date, on my shelf. The first one I came across is

Black, J., ed. European Warfare 1453 - 1815 (London: Macmillan, 1999)

This is a book of edited essays which look at various aspects of military history (not drums and trumpets stuff) across Europe. It is a bit of patchwork of a book, as such edited academic volumes are, having a set of discussions of historical periods, then a few more specific areas, covering Ottoman, naval, Russian, Baltic and Gaelic warfare. Rather than trying to discuss the lot, I thought I would focus on just one. I might do some more at a later date, but part of the problem is that I can read essays much faster than I can write about them.

I suppose, if one were to survey the historiography of early modern warfare, the reader would find two paradigms to deal with. The first is the well-known (at least, I know about it and have talked about it) ‘military revolution’ and the second is the concept of ‘gunpowder empires’. The military revolution was proposed formally by Roberts in 1956, and suggested that the period 1560 – 1660 formed a period of great military change in tactics, strategy and army size, which required changes in administration and an increase in state power. This has not gone uncontested, and Parker modified it to suggest that the spread of the bastion style fortress was earlier and more indicative of change, as more sophisticated artillery fortresses required larger armies to besiege them. That, of course, has not gone uncontested and so the historiographical wheel continues to roll.

Gunpowder empires, as a second concept, refers mainly to the Mughal, Safavid and Ottoman states. I am not totally sure of the ground here, but the idea seems to be that the advent of practical firearms, both artillery and handheld, enabled these states to conquer large areas and hold them against less sophisticated (or, perhaps, simply less gunpowder weapon integrated) armies. The case in point seems to be the defeat by the Ottomans of the Mamelukes in 1516-7; the Mamelukes did not think much of gunpowder, the Ottomans did. The Ottomans won; therefore gunpowder is important to the Ottoman expansion. Again, this sort of historical concept is open to as much dispute as it settles.

Once we have got our heads around these ideas, we can start to ponder the actual essays in the book. The first one is
Arnold, T. F., 'War in Sixteenth Century Europe: Revolution and Renaissance', in Black, J. (ed.), European Warfare 1453 - 1815 (London: Macmillan, 1999), 23-44.

Arnold argues that essentially, the era from the Crusades to the fall of Constantinople and beyond was that of non-European domination of European militaries. In 1480 the Ottomans took Otranto in southern Italy; in 1529 they stood at the gates of Vienna having smashed the kingdom of Hungary three years earlier, so long regarded as the shield of Europe. From this perspective the historical fact that the Ottomans did not penetrate any further needs some explanation.

Arnold argues that the explanation revolves around the increasing European capacity for defensive warfare, and that is a function of developments in fortifications, particularly bastion fortresses. At Corfu (1537), Malta (1565) and elsewhere, sophisticated fortresses on geometric designs were created. Fortifications slow offensives down. Arnold notes that the Ottoman siege of Szigeth in Hungary (1566) wasted the entire campaigning season for the victory of capturing a relatively minor fortress, let alone having to deal with the death of Suleiman.

At sea too the Ottomans and their allies dominated. It was they who could land troops in Italy or the Balearics. It was only gradually that the Western powers, in particular, Spain, gained the upper hand with more heavily armed galleys. Arnold does not, I think, note it, but the advent of the heavily armed Mediterranean galley also pushed northern European ship designers in working out how to counter them with sailing ships and hence, eventually, to the broadside line of battleship.

Once Ottoman campaigns were, more or less, contained to sieges of modern fortified positions and raids, there were few if any pitched battles between European and Ottoman forces in the sixteenth century. The Christians lost the two pitched battles Arnold mentions, Alcazarquivir (1578) and Mezokeresztes (1596). Numbers still told, but European infantry tactics were the future, he suggests, and led directly to the victories of the battle of the Pyramids (1798) and Omdurman (1898).

The latter point is probably a bit of a stretch, at least it is for me, but the basic point is sound. In a siege situation with a modern bastion fortress, the numerical advantage of the Ottomans can be cancelled out. At Mohacs, the Hungarians were outnumbered, although how heavily is unclear. The same was true at Alcazarquivir and Mezokeresztes. Given that quantity has a quality all its own, taking refuge behind modern defences seems to have been the most sensible plan.

Arnold argues that the edge that Europe gradually gained over the Ottomans was because of three factors, and it was not purely technological. He suggests that the difference emerged because Europeans thought differently about using gunpowder weapons in warfare. European he argues, found gunpowder weapons culturally awkward but aesthetically exciting and tried to assimilate them. Secondly, Europe faces grave military crises both internally with endless wars and externally with the Ottoman threat. Thirdly the Renaissance demanded re-thinking of more or less everything, including warfare, by the culturally elite.

We know that rulers, in general, liked their artillery parks and nobles liked their firearms. Politics, including the French invasion of Italy in 1494 triggered an extensive series of wars and changes in warfare. The new military architecture and disciplined infantry both emerged from the ruins of Italy. The printing revolution ensured that the new understandings of warfare were quickly disseminated around Europe.

The Renaissance also promulgated a wider understanding of classical warfare. It is no accident that the reforms in the Dutch army of the 1590’s were inspired by Aelian. Ancient warfare could be co-opted into the wars of survival of Christian Europe. As Arnold notes, European rulers might use their armies against each other, but never quite forgot the ultimate foe was the sultan.

Saturday 13 October 2018

Why I Wargame Early Modern

I have, in the past, been slightly curmudgeonly about wargaming both World War One and World War Two. I have also griped about colonial games where the native is mowed down by machine guns. I am not sure I have done so, but I could also grumble about Napoleonic games, mostly because of the impossibility of painting some of the uniforms and the vast numbers of figures needed to make a viable wargame. I might also be able to swipe at the eighteenth century, with their interchangeable forces except for the coat colours. Not only that, but I could dismiss medieval wargaming as too difficult because of painting heraldry and, anyway, battles were settled by the charge of a few knights mowing down the commoners, so it was all a bit pointless.

Now, all I am left with is the ancients period and early modern wargaming. These, of course, are my own personal favourites, and so stand above all criticism, at least by me. And, if your blood pressure is rising (or has risen) because I have denigrated your favourite period, then I do know that all the above comments about the different periods (and ones I have not mentioned) can and should be nuanced. On the other hand, some might be offended that I have not mentioned their own period. Life and people can be odd like that.

Anyway, as the last few posts might have convinced you, I have returned to the ‘early modern’ period. The period name is interesting in itself. It used to be called ‘renaissance’, but then it was pointed out that the Renaissance happened, at best, in the early part of the period and that, in fact, there were several renaissances in Europe. Another name might be thought to be ‘pike and shot’ but the problem there is that the pike was a distinctly European weapon, at least in this period. So the rather ugly term ‘early modern’ was invented or at least came about. It isn’t my fault.

The name ‘early modern’ of course indicates itself a transition from whatever happened before to something recognisably ‘modern’, whatever that means. The early modern period exists largely because it is neither medieval nor modern, although even counting the French Revolution as modern is stretching things a little.

There is a degree of flexibility at the boundaries of the period as well. Lots of people count it as being from 1485 to 1713, but that is a peculiarly British (English?) point of view, running from Bosworth to the end of the War of Spanish Succession. Other views point to 1492 as a start date, when Columbus detected the Americas and the French invaded Italy with lots of cannons. Again, that is a peculiarly Euro-centric view. After all, the native Americans had been merrily waging war on each other for generations prior to being discovered, and, for themselves, did not need discovering at all.

A slightly more viable start date might be 1453, with the Ottoman capture of Constantinople. This is at least an even on a slightly wider canvas; on the other hand, it did not make much material difference to warfare, although it did to the cultural and intellectual life of Europe. Scholars fleeing the siege brought with the Greek texts of various sorts which, between them, gave a fillip to academic life, philosophy and (you could argue) started the trends that led to the Reformations.

The end date is equally contested. 1660 has been mooted, but that is due to the Restoration in Britain. 1688 is another Anglo-centric date. I have mentioned 1713, and a few use 1750 (which seems a little arbitrary; I suspect it is just for neatness). 1721 is, of course, the end of the Northern Wars, while 1792 is the French Revolution. There are arguments as to whether the Revolution marks a discontinuity in warfare or a development thereof. Another mooted date is 1815, and the final defeat of Napoleon and a new legal order in Europe.

All of these dates can be defended and equally contested. I am not going to enter into the endless and rather pointless debates that can ensue. As the Estimable Mrs P observes ‘I thought it was a hobby. My own limits to the period are from 1500-ish to 1700-ish, with a bit of wriggle room at each end. How is that for being decisive?

Anyway, the question of the post is why this period, whatever it is? I suppose there are many answers to that question. A choice like that is not made easily, suddenly and is often more whimsy than anything else. A reason was Stuart Asquith’s articles in Battle / Military Modelling on ECW battles. Another was my gradual realisation that there was quite a lot more to that period than Charles I and Cromwell bashing away at each other, including the surprise of my history teacher that I had even heard of the Thirty Years War. And then later (and still ongoing) realisations as to the connectivity of things in the period.

One of the attractions I find of the early modern period is the general weirdness of it all. It is recognisably the world we live in, except the ideas we live with are somewhat half-formed. It is also a period where, for example, Stone Age societies (or at least, technologies) can battle it out with firearms, with a chance of winning. In fact, you can throw pretty well any sort of troops on the table, except, I suppose tanks and similar, and find a society and culture that used them. Elephants? Check. Rockets? Check. Submarines? The idea was around, as, in fact, so was that of tanks, of course. I dare say that similar things can be argued for other periods; I am not trying to suggest that my period has a monopoly on either weirdness or half-baked technology, but it is an interesting time.

 Finally, I suspect that the era is under-represented in wargaming terms. I have lost count of the number of Napoleonic, World War Two and One and even ancients wargames I have seen at shows or in the blogosphere. Not so many (although not none) in this period. And apart from in my list of armies to rebase, I have not seen some of the interesting match ups that there are in the period. Ming versus Manchu, anyone?

Saturday 6 October 2018

World Wargaming

Now, do not panic. I have not suddenly taken a dive into World War Two, World War One, or even the Seven Years War. The latter is often touted as the ‘first world war’, even though historians of the seventeenth century (if not the sixteenth) would claim that the Hispano-Dutch War was a world war, especially after the Portuguese possessions became Spanish after 1580. The Dutch, after all, launched attacks in South America and the Far East. Phillip II sort of by accident, landed up with an empire upon which the sun did not set, hundreds of years before the British thought of it. And the Dutch were a maritime nation at war with it.

Anyway, before I digress too much further, I am not thinking about world wars in the conventional sense, but about the rise of what is called ‘world history’. This is mentioned in Morillo’s book which I reviewed here a bit ago. On closer examination, I noticed that a few of the works on my shelf corresponded with the idea (most notably Geoffrey Parker’s tome  Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (Yale: Yale University Press, 2013), which I reviewed here a bit ago. The basic synopsis is ‘brilliant but depressing.’).

The point is that, as those of you who have been paying attention to my meanderings here might have noticed, I have returned to my old soldiers, and hence to wargaming on a world stage. I have no intention of trying a re-run of my Internet-based campaign game of global scope, 1618-Something, but nevertheless, there are interesting possibilities. But one thing that has occurred to me is the possible relationships between world history and wargaming.

One of the key aspects of world history, so far as I can judge, is the possibility of comparisons between two different areas of the world. There are, of course, inevitable differences between assorted bits of the world, but there are also a sufficient number of parallels to make comparison possibly instructive. A case in point (with due apologies to those without access to an academic library) is this:

Morillo, S., 'Guns and Government: A Comparative Study of Europe and Japan', Journal of World History 6, no. 1 (1995), 75-106.

I will not, for the moment at least, go into the details of Morillo’s argument in the paper, but the point, so far as I am concerned, is that a comparison between Europe of the sixteenth century and Japan of roughly the same era is not only possible but instructive. The argument, in brief, is that the ‘military revolution’ (scare quotes seem to be appropriate) was not dependent on the introduction of gunpowder. That can be dated precisely to 1543 in Japan, and Morillo argues that (looked at in the right scale) Japan was already promoting stronger states (it was not a single state; like Europe rather than France) before gunpowder arrived, so the increase in state power, the size of armies and revenues are not dependent, as some forms of the military revolution argument go, on having weapons that go bang.

I am not a sufficient historian to be able to critique Morillo’s argument, although I dare say that it is not totally watertight. I could see, for example, that it could be argued that Japan at least had a history of being a state, while the different bits of Europe did not. This might have made state formation ideologically easier. On the other hand, the idea of ‘chivalry’ (to apply a western term to the Samurai code) had not died in either Europe or Japan, although warfare, pragmatically, ignored it.

The point here is that, possibly, wargaming has something to contribute here. Phil Sabin, as most wargamers probably know, has been tirelessly promoting the idea of a wargame as a set of models which can be tested against known outcomes. If you do not know about this, then try Sabin, P., Lost Battles: Reconstructing the Great Clashes of the Ancient World (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007), or Sabin, P., Simulating War: Studying Conflict through Simulation Games (London: Continuum, 2012). I am pondering whether wargaming might be able to contribute to the sort of comparative study that Morillo presents.

Obviously, I am not daft enough to suggest that the comparison is easy or that a simple-minded ‘Samurai army against French Ordonnance’ matchup would shed any light at all on anything very much. But some of the detail might be interesting. Morillo suggests that, really, in battle, the difference between bows and muskets was not that great. I have seen this suggested elsewhere – for example in the endless debates in Elizabethan military literature about the merits of the longbow. If they were, in fact, interchangeable, then exchanging them (or going all one way or the other) should make little or no difference to the outcomes of battles.

If this is the case, then the reason for both Japanese and European armies adopting massed musketry must lie elsewhere. I do not think there is any proof, but the suspicion lies around the relative ease of training musketeers as opposed to archers. One relies on chemical energy, the other on muscle power, after all. Thus we could model a relationship between bow and musket along the lines of the fraction of available manpower which could be utilised for each weapon; not all available males of service age would be fit to draw a bow, while more could use a firearm.

Naturally, this would rely on a validated model for warfare in the countries, and periods, in question. I doubt if we have one of those and, to be brutally honest, my view of the hobby wargame world at the moment is that rules are moving further away from modelling real battles rather than nearer. This is not, before anyone starts jumping up and down, a particular criticism of any rules sets or styles thereof, just an observation that the fun element is getting more conspicuous than, perhaps, it has been in the past (not that the rules are in fact less ‘accurate’ than older sets, but that the models used are less explicit).

Still, it would be an interesting thought experiment. Would a Samurai army armed with bows be able to take on one armed with firearms? How many more troops would the latter have to deploy to obtain a victory? Simulations of this, in a validated ruleset (if such a one could be obtained), might (and only might; there is a lot of prejudice against doing this sort of thing), contribute something to our historiographical knowledge of the period.

Saturday 29 September 2018

Highland Warrior

In spite of all the wargaming, and the reasonable amount of painting and basing which I have undertaken, I have still been reading books. The case in point here is this tome:

Stevenson, D., Highland Warrior: Alasdair MacColla and the Civil Wars (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2014).

Now, as someone who started ‘serious’ wargaming with the English Civil War, and, perhaps to his credit quite quickly realised that there was more to it than England, this is a work of interest and so, one summer afternoon while waiting for the paint to dry, I started it. I confess I found it a bit difficult to get into to start off with. The opening chapter is a discussion of the Highlands in the early seventeenth century, which, to an outsider, is a confusing mix of names and places. It deals, largely, with the rivalries of the clans in the Southern Highlands, and the key to understanding this is the rise of Clan Campbell. In a sense, this, and the reactions to it during the seventeenth century are the theme of the book.

The links with Ireland are also emphasised. The MacDonnells of Antrim and the MacDonalds were related, and there was a fair bit of to-ing and froing between them. Most Highland Lords had navies, galleys and sailing ships, and the traffic between Scotland and Ireland, both political and commercial, was extensive. This had the effect of enmeshing Scotland in the rebellion of the Irish in the early 1640’s. In fact, the only really effective army in Ireland in the early 1640’s was Scottish, and a factor in the arrival of the Irish troops in Scotland in 1644 was an attempt to make the Scottish Covenanter government in Edinburgh withdraw it to counter the Irish – Highlander alliance.

Alasdair MacColla was a MacDonald and spent a fair bit of time in Antrim. His father was a key fighter against Campbell expansion in the early seventeenth century; his family spent time in Ireland to avoid the Campbells, for example, and there were various activities, more or less violent or farcical, in the southern islands. Things became a lot more serious with the rebellion, of course, and Alasdair was a commander in the rebel army, defected to the Scots and then returned to the Irish, alongside leading raids and arguably inventing the ‘Highland Charge’ in Ireland.

With the arrival of MacColla and his troops in Scotland, the narrative turns to more familiar grounds, at least for me. Most of us who have looked at any account of the Civil Wars will be aware of Montrose’s campaigns in and around the Highlands and various attempted invasions of the Lowlands and promises to lead huge armies into England in support of the King. Historiography has moved on from the late nineteenth and earlier twentieth century view of Montrose as a hideously romantic hero, a genius general and a man who could have saved the Royalist cause had it not been for his subordinates (including MacColla), English Royalist cowardice and disorganisation and dour Scottish Presbyterianism which refused to acknowledge when it was beaten.  The reality is, of course, a lot more complex.

I am sure I have remarked before that more recent views regard Montrose as a rather average general, one who, on a number of important occasions, failed to scout properly and was surprised on a number of occasions when he should have known better. Stevenson, in fact, entirely re-writes Gardiner’s account of the battle of Auldearn, arguing that instead of an inspired misdirection of the Covenanter army to expose itself to a flank attack, Montrose was surprised and MacColla’s men had to fight a lengthy delaying action while Montrose gathered up the rest of the army and came to relieve them. Had the Covenanters not been worried about damp powder in their muskets, and discharged them before their approach to the battle, Montrose and the Royalists might well have been utterly surprised and routed. Of course, that assumes that those muskets would have fired….

Another important point Stevenson makes is that the Royalist cause in Scotland was always an alliance of disparate forces with different aims. MacColla’s aim was to destroy Clan Campbell and reclaim his own clan’s lands. As Argyll, the chief of the Campbells was also the chief player in the Covenanter government, this worked until it appeared that that government was defeated. Ravaging Campbell lands and defeating them at Inverlochy might not have been Montrose's ideal strategy for the beginning of 1645, but it did fit in. Doing it again after Kilsyth did not, as Montrose needed to present himself as able to form a Royalist government based on Glasgow and had summoned a parliament. MacColla was less interested in this and wanted another go at destroying the Campbells.

Stevenson makes some interesting comments about the historiography surrounding MacColla. If a historian regards Montrose as a hero general, then MacColla must be a subordinate. His activities at Auldearn must, therefore, be of someone who was a good fighter but a bit thick, starting the combat too early and having to be rescued by the genius’ plan and own activity. Similarly, his move into Campbell lands after Kilsyth is represented as that of someone who had not understood Montrose’s grand plan. Again, a good fighter but not very bright. This is augmented by Gaelic poetry, which focusses on his abilities as a warrior, not as a leader or general. We all like heroes as heroes.

Furthermore, I have seen MacColla’s death described as being in a skirmish in Ireland. Now it is true that he was killed in Ireland in 1647, but Stevenson observes that the battle where he died (in apparently dubious circumstances), Knocknanuss, was larger than any of Montrose’s battle, possibly excepting Kilsyth. Yet it gets largely ignored, maybe because it was in Ireland, or perhaps it simply does not fit in with our historiography of the period. After all, only Drogheda and Wexford really count in defeating the Irish rebellion.

There is a lot in the book, and it is recommended, even though it is a re-issue of a 1980 work. I doubt if historiography has moved on very much since it was first published, although I do know that an awful lot has been argued over about the ‘Highland’ charge, its origins, effectiveness and impact. But that will have to wait for another day.

Saturday 22 September 2018


Colonel Cranium looked around the table at his captains. They were all tough, hardened mercenaries. To a man, they were afraid of nothing and no-one. Used to the realities and scarcities of battle and campaign. All of them are veterans of a thousand sieges and skirmishes.

Captain Amnesia was reading a paper. Cranium stared at him. This was unusual. His command notes were often returned, unread by his subordinates.

‘What is it, Amnesia?’

‘It is a letter from a Polish captain.’ There was a stir around the table. ‘No, my friends, it is not treason. He writes to tell me that he is enjoying my Burgundy.’

‘Your what?’ Cranium was surprised. Amnesia was definitely a beer man, in his book.

‘My Burgundy. I was having some shipped in especially for my birthday.’

‘On the convoy?’

‘Of course. I have not resorted to clandestine activities.’ Cranium glanced around. A number of captains were looking innocent, a sure sign that some of them were importing delicacies illicitly.

‘All right, now listen. The Poles captured the convoy, and we have to live with that.’

‘We have heard them partying from the walls.’

‘Well, I suppose Amnesia’s Burgundy was a decent vintage.’

A chuckle went around the table. ‘I was planning to share it with my band of brothers, of course,’ Amnesia said.

‘I doubt it was the only decent drink that was captured that day.’ Cranium frowned. ‘Brothers in arms,’ he said, ‘we do have a problem as the result of the failure of the convoy to get here.’

‘We are not starving, colonel.’

‘True and we are not going to. But unless we do something then all we are going to have left to drink for Christmas is vodka.’

‘Polish or Russian vodka?’

‘Polish, made by Russians.’

‘That stuff gives you a terrible hangover.’

‘We must do something!’ A murmur of agreement circulated.

‘I have done some thinking and a little planning, and I think we can launch an attack on the Polish main camp. At least we could recapture our supplies. At best we might drive the Poles off.’

‘What is the plan, Colonel?’

‘Well, as you know we have four gates – Omsk, Tomsk, Tobermory and Great Uncle Bulgaria. The Polish camp is opposite the latter. If we can form up on the flat land under the walls from midnight, then we can fall on at first light and catch the Poles when they are in their cups.’

‘In our cups, you mean.’

‘They will have guards.’

‘Of course. But the cavalry will exit by Tobermory and Tomsk and come around the flanks, while the infantry goes directly via Bulgaria. That should drive the guards in and cause enough chaos for us to push the Poles back.’

‘Chaos for whom, colonel? Us or them?’

‘I do understand the risks, Migraine, but we are not attacking at night.’

‘But it is a bit risky.’ Migraine was always the one searching for problems.

‘Of course, but warfare is like that. And consider the opportunities. We only have to recapture our drink. Plus, and I know this will go no further: our current employers will pay a bounty to us if we drive the Poles off. If not, and we put on a good show, then there are possibilities of negotiating a new contract with a different employer.’

‘The Poles?’

‘I am afraid that the information is subject to the usual confidentiality clauses. The raid will occur in two days; please be ready to move your troops into place from midnight. I will circulate the details later today.’ Cranium paused. ‘Do I have your agreement?’

‘We only have two squadrons of cavalry, colonel. Will the garrison Boyars be involved? I mean, I think they quite like their own vodka.’

‘I think that most of them will be happy to join in. Firstly, they had their own supplies on the convoy. Secondly, I believe that at least one secret recipe for flavoured vodka was on the convoy, and so there are commercial secrets at risk as well.’

‘Flavoured vodka? I thought most of its charm was that it was pretty flavourless.’

‘Well, you will have heard of the flavoured gin bars springing up around the world. I suppose it was too much to expect that vodka wouldn’t follow.’

‘Disgusting stuff flavoured gin.’

‘Do you prefer unflavoured gin, Captain Trepan?’

‘Give me a decent glass of wine any day.’

‘If we recapture my Burgundy, I’ll give you a bottle.’

‘Generous of you, Amnesia.’

‘Gentlemen.’ Cranium held his hand up. ‘We are in danger of drifting from the point. The Boyars will supply two squadrons of cavalry; they will exit from Tomsk. Ours will leave via Omsk. The infantry will go out through Great Uncle Bulgaria. There will be four companies of shot, four of pike. The outer earthworks will have two more shot companies to provide cover for any retreat, but they will not move forward, so don’t treat them as your reserve.’ Cranium paused. ‘Any questions?’

‘How do we get the men to bring the booze back here and not drink it there?’

Cranium grinned. ‘Tell them that the Hussars will get them if they pause.’

There was general laughter. ‘They were too stoned to move last time out,’ Amnesia chuckled. ‘Even though the convoy was wide open.’

‘It can be hard sitting on a horse with a hangover,’ Captain Poise put in.

‘Maybe it was the horses that had overindulged.’

Cranium joined in the laughter. ‘Nevertheless,’ he added, when a degree of order had been restored, ‘we cannot assume that they won’t intervene this time.’

‘If I had known we had to do this, I would have added a case of flavoured Hock to my order.’

‘Hock? Why?’

‘It would be vile and disable any Pole that drank it!’

‘Why bother with flavoured Hock? Just give them bottles of Liebfraumilch.’

‘Well, maybe, but it would need to be alcoholic, you know.’

‘Not necessarily. I mean food poisoning can disable the best men. I’m sure drink poisoning would do the same.’

Cranium decided it was time to wrap up. ‘Until the day after tomorrow, gentlemen.’ He bowed and left the room. He needed a drink.

Saturday 15 September 2018

Don’t Bother With This Post Either…

‘We’re going to land up in the Tower, you know.’

‘It wasn’t our fault. The wind was against us. And it didn’t help that Plonker here ran into Redoubtable.’

Captain Plonker stirred. ‘Not my fault someone ran out of sea room, and that someone didn’t understand the rules of sailing.’ He glared out of the page at the author.

‘Falling out about it isn’t going to help.’ Anderson sighed and pushed his hair up. ‘How are Reliant and Reprobate?’

‘Well, if you’d been boarded and some dago had chucked a grenade in your powder hold, you might be feeling a little, um, charred.’


‘Hard to say. Out of action for the foreseeable. We’ve got them into Scarborough and the guns off them.’

‘So, three burnt and two damaged. That was nearly half our strength so we can put that in the report.’

‘As long as you don’t say that the two damaged ran into each other.’

‘I think I might omit that bit. What else can I say?

‘We did damage some of their ships, and quite badly too. That galleass will be in port for a bit, I reckon.’

‘The point is, though, as in the Channel, we can engage them but not really hurt them. If they board us then, well, they have all the soldiers on board. But we’ve got to close to do any damage, and that runs the risk of being boarded.’

‘Well, we had our orders, and they had theirs. They were not going to stop before getting to port, and we couldn’t stop them. They could have taken and kept Reliant and Reprobate, but chose to try to burn them.’


I confess to having some difficulty with this battle, namely that I had no suitable rules. Still, necessity is the mother of invention and I invented some, although I did have to revise them rapidly (and restart the game) when it became apparent that the English fleet would never get into range of the Spanish as it was.

The scenario was very simple. The Spanish had to sail intact to Whitby. For each ship that made it, Don Pedro receives a base of reinforcements. The aim of the English is to stop them. As noted before, and above, as the English did not manage to stop the Armada sailing up the Channel in formation, the odds are fairly against them doing much damage to the Spanish.

I am not claiming that the rules are particularly accurate or comprehensive, but they seemed to work for a simple play through. The English passed one squadron to the front of the Spanish, inflicting some damage as they went. The bulk of the English passed the other side (on the opposite tack) and the near most squadron had a go. The Spanish sailed on and the English had to turn about and give chase. This is the point at which I messed up the distances and two English ships hit each other.

The chase continued.

 The Spanish are in the top left of the photograph, heading for the port which is out of the picture to the further left. The rest of the English are in the foreground and scattered to the right, except for one unfortunate galleon which was in line with the galleass, hit by gunfire and boarded. The Spanish decided against taking a prize and set it alight. In the top right are the entangled English ships.

The English did catch the Spanish again, but the exchanges were indecisive until the galleass and a Spanish great ship managed to close with a squadron bravely sailing into the midst of the remains of the Spanish formation. This did not end well again, with two more English ships boarded and aflame, while the Spanish sailed on (or limped on, in the case of the galleass and great ship). The English, not realizing how badly damaged they were, and having five ships hors de combat themselves, decided to quit and face the Queen’s wrath.

The picture shows the end of the action, with two more English ships alight and really only two English ships able and in the right place to fight further. The action was an interesting afternoon or so. The English manoeuvring was terrible; Spanish tactics, to keep in formation and sail for the port were simpler and easier. It is actually very hard, even with my simple-minded rules, to aim at a moving target – you tend to miss.  I suppose I had better write the rules up sometime.


‘Don Carlo, my lord’

Don Pedro scrambled to his feet. ‘Carlo! Well met my friend!’

‘Pedro. We came as soon as we could. We landed only yesterday.’

‘Your men are ashore already?’

‘No, my friend. They are landing as we speak, I trust. I came to consult with you, and share a glass of this.’ Don Carlo brandished a bottle. ‘Rioja. Only the best for my friend the Generalissimo.’

'At last, a decent drink. You can only get stuff that they call "beer" here. It is disgusting. Particularly the next morning.'

As they drank, Don Pedro filled Carlo in on the situation. ‘So, we have got to this point where the road goes north and south. The hills are too steep for the army, and York is south, so that is the aim.’


‘It is the administrative centre for the north of the country. If we take it the English may be forced to negotiate. Anyway, we’ve heard that the Scots are on their way, about to cross the border, so we need to hold this bridge on the road north.’

‘Are there no others?’

‘That is the first bridge over the river; there’s another one further up; we have to hope the Scots don’t know that.’

‘Is that likely?’

‘Well, it is sufficiently far away that any force blocking the bridge here should be able to turn and prevent them marching south.’

‘And that is what you want me to do?’

‘With the help of God, yes. March your men straight there. I will supply guides.’

Don Carlos stared at the sketch. ‘Very well. But if you get to York I am coming south to share in the glory!’

‘Let us drink to that time, my friend.’

Saturday 8 September 2018

Coldingham Combat

King James sat and stared into the tankard that had just been reverently placed before him. Divine Right of Kings was one thing, he thought. Drinking this might enable him to meet his maker sooner rather than later. He was sure that something had moved down there.

Nevertheless, he raised the cup to his lips and sipped. He caught the proprietor’s eye and smiled. She relaxed and more tankards of the stuff were produced for the courtiers, captains and general hangers on.

It had, overall, been a good day. If you have to fight, James mused, it is as well to fight and win. The lancers had done well. The Borderers had done badly. He must look into the background of the captains. On the other hand, the rebel’s Border horse had also run away. Perhaps they had colluded. It would not be without precedent.

Without thinking about it he took a swig of beer. Actually, for a provincial tavern, it was not too bad. And anyway, he was still alive. Someone, now residing at his pleasure in Edinburgh Castle, had pointed out to him that both his grandfather and great-grandfather had died as a result of fighting the English. Maybe that bit of family history was over. Mind you, he had been fighting his own people rather than the English, here, and he was going to help his cousin’s forces.

Another resident of Edinburgh Castle had also inquired whether the price for his intervention was going to be the freedom of his mother. James was not entirely sure that Mary would still be alive. If it were him on the throne of England, she would have died years ago. Elizabeth, he knew, was a lot less sanguine than he was about killing monarchs. Perhaps that was the English way; few enough Scottish kings had died in their beds in recent centuries.

‘Sire, my Lord Maxwell craves a meeting.’

‘Maxwell? Is he alive?’

‘We found him in the stream, my lord. He is a bit wounded and very muddy.’

‘Throw a couple of buckets of cold water over him and bring him in.’

A few minutes later there was a commotion at the door, and Lord Maxwell, sometime rebel and defeated general was hauled in, dripping mud and water on the floor.

‘I protest! I am a Lord of the Realm. You cannot treat me like this!’

James sighed. ‘Maxwell, I can treat you however I like. You need to come up with a very good reason for your behaviour today.’

‘I am trying to save the realm! We are sunk in iniquity and have turned away from God and his church! I would stop you from making the greatest mistake, aiding the heretic against the armies of God! Repent of your sins and the sins of the nation. Return to the true faith. Aid the Spanish and their crusade to root out this heresy.’

‘Maxwell, you sound like a Protestant preacher, not a Catholic rebel. Be quiet, or I shall silence you myself.’

‘What shall we do with the rebel, sire?’

‘I suppose we shall have to do something. Chain him up and send him to the Castle. I will decide later.’

‘Do you have orders for the army, sire?’

‘Yes. They are to camp on the other side of the stream this evening. We continue our march south tomorrow. And send as much beer out to them as the burgh has.’

As you can probably surmise, the royalists won the day at Coldingham. To refresh your memory (it is a while since the scenario was posted; I had to paint 12 bases of Scottish infantry before playing it), the battlefield is below.

The rebels enter from the right, the King’s forces from nearest the camera, the north, and aim to exit on the road to the south. The key point is Coldingham Burgh, of course, with the old priory (taken over as the parish church) to the left.

While aware of each other’s presence, the two armies are not deployed. The rebels had the slightly shorter march to Coldingham and so arrived first. The initial contact looked like this.

 Both sides put their cavalry first, and the initial clash went the rebel’s way, but the King’s heavier cavalry put paid to their opponents, including the rebel general (who survived two goes at him, but succumbed when his Border horse base fled).

General-less the rest of the rebel army struggled to deploy and only the musketeers managed to enter Coldingham, while the highlanders guarded the stream. James deployed his men  in a relatively leisurely manner, and heavy musket fire broke out in the village, while the lancers entered it from the east. The rebel infantry was very stubborn, yielding only slowly to musket fire and charges from the lancers. The highlanders attempted to storm the stream but, after initial success (highlanders do not rate well in these rules, and attacking across a stream is bad news anyway) were defeated. This broke the morale of the rebel army.

The picture shows the final positions. The King’s cavalry and musketeers are in control of the village, and one of the highlander bases is routing (by the measuring stick). One rebel musketeer base is still extant, having retreated across the stream. The rebel pikes have not managed to deploy. The rebel dice throwing was interesting, to say the least, and they rarely had any tempo points left over to do anything, like deploy.

Overall, it was a good and interesting game. I thought it was all over after the initial cavalry clash, but the Scottish musketeers did prove very stubborn, benefiting from the cover of the burgh and holding out for a good number of turns, even if they were not deployed (and so could not shoot back).

Anyway, King James continues his march south. Now I have to invent some suitable naval rules and see if Don Pedro obtains any reinforcements.

Saturday 1 September 2018

Don’t Bother to Read This Post….

…as it is about naval wargaming. And most people are not interested in naval wargames.

However, because I have a digital camera and it was charged up and in the same room as the wargame, I took some pictures. As a matter of record for my narrative ancients campaign, if not for anyone else’s edification, I am going to talk about it here.

You might recall the scenario. Young Alexander IV is set on invading Carthage, and then working his way around the Western Mediterranean via the rest of North Africa, Spain, Southern France and Italy, doing for that region what his father did for the East. First of all he has to gain a foothold in Africa itself. Curtius reports Alexander III as ordering ships to be built for the invasion. I suppose going overland was not that attractive and, even if it were, it would require a fleet to support the army.

Anyway, the Carthaginians were not going to take being invaded lying down and, in this narrative, have a navy. In terms of the scenario, the Macedonians have 25 merchant ships and 25 quinquiremes. Each merchant ship which beaches at the far end of the table means the land army has a base. Every two quinquiremes that beach also add a base, so there is a possible 37 base land army in the offing.

The Carthaginians have 25 triremes and 5 penteconters. The idea of the penteconters was to scout and disrupt the Macedonian fleet and be the last line of beach defence. Well, we can dream, can’t we?

Anyway, the initial moves looked like this:

The Macedonians are heading to the beach. The Carthaginian penteconters are deploying at the far end. The first of the Carthaginian squadrons have entered right and the merchants (with the sails) have moved left away from them. The Carthaginian squadrons, incidentally, entered on a roll of 6 on 1D6 and appeared in one of the six squared along the right-hand edge of the table.

I realised at this point that I was to have around 80 ships on the table at a time and that there was no way I was going to be able to keep track of all the individual seamanship ratings and orders for all of them, let along control anything when the fighting got messy. Some quick averaging of seamanship rolls meant that everyone landed up with a three. Given the nature of the combat (everyone started off in line ahead), I decided that the initiative of the individual captains would be more important, and abandoned command points.

Well, things did get messy. Very messy indeed. There were ships all over the place; at the end one-third of the remaining Macedonian merchant ships were sailing full speed away from the beach, attempting to get away from Carthaginian triremes. The endpoint is below:

As I said, chaos had more or less ensued. I did find a few interesting tactical issues, however. The blank bases indicate sinkings – there were a few more than what is shown, actually, because I ran out of counters. One issue was the use of sunk ships as cover to avoid being attacked. Both sides made use of this rather well. Several merchant ships, in particular, managed to survive because there was a sunk ship between them and the enemy.

The other issue was the difficulty of triremes taking on quinquiremes. The initial combat between two squadrons, one from each side, went overwhelmingly to the bigger ships. To some extent, this justifies the increased size of vessels during the Hellenistic period. On the other hand, they became less manoeuvrable and I suspect, less seaworthy. Navies were prestige items (and to some extent, still are).

Still, the Macedonians managed to land 16 merchant ships and had 17 quinquiremes left at the end of the battle. This means that Alexander’s army now consists of 24 elements with which to take on Carthage and her allies.