Saturday 30 March 2019


Well, if the title does not get some excitement from Russian botnets, I do not know what will. Incidentally, I would like to thank my regular readers who kept the number of hits on the site up during my recent absence, particularly ‘britany34’ and ‘tiffany 23’. I hope you enjoyed the discussions about world wargaming.

In a spirit of disappointing those more casual readers who happen on this post, I think we need to talk about interpenetrating bodies of troops. Perhaps it is just me, but I have a suspicion that I have not been taking the topic sufficiently seriously in my rules, and also in reading other people’s rules.

The topic is prompted by my recent comments on Korean units during the seventeenth century, whereby, as I am sure you recall, the musketeers, archers and spear and sword armed units moved through each other as the situation demanded. Thus, the musketeers shoot and, when exhausted or unloaded, fall back through the archers, who keep up the ranged combat until the enemy is too close, at which point they retire and the Kill Units take up the, um, cudgels, until the enemy retire and the archers and/or musketeers resume the fray.

I hope I am not sufficiently naive to suppose that this all happens seamlessly, but it does suggest that there are problems with sets of rules that do not or try to restrict too much, the interpenetration of bases of troops. After all, a base is a wargaming construct for a tactical unit. It is still made up of individuals who can move in a fairly small space. So it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that an archer unit could advance through musketeers to take up the shooting, or then fall back through a load of spearmen while the close combat troops get into action. It is just that the base is a lot less flexible than this.

In Polemos: SPQR I tried to handle this through allowing, say, skirmishers, to retire through formed foot facing the same way. The idea was, and is, that the skirmishers could be the ‘ablative’ front to a block of troops and, when disrupted, retire to the back of the block. I suspect this is a reasonable model of what really could have happened, in that the skirmishers, in battle reports, open the action and then are heard of no more.

We get into more complex areas, however, when we consider something like the Roman triple line formation of the middle republic. Someone asked me recently how I handled that in SPQR. The answer is, of course, that I do not, because the Roman legion had evolved by then, but it is an interesting question. My initial reaction is that there is no really good model for the sort of movement and relief we are talking about, even if what is described is is, as in the Korean case, rather idealized and certainly discounts any enemy activity.

My second reaction is not to model it at all. After all, in Polemos: ECW we avoid the question of the interaction of pike and shot by basing them as the same unit and varying the ratio of pike to shot to reflect the capability of the base. This managed to escape problems of micro-managing formations and support, which is what does damage to the DBR model.  By extension, therefore, we could do something similar with the Roman middle republican legion. Have the hastati, principes and triarii all on the same base, one behind the other. Thus the first line can be assumed to move behind the second, and be relieved by the third and so on. Velites, deployed in front of the base can retire straight through it.

There are objections to this of course (and do not believe that I have thought it through at all). Roman legions were not that inflexible, and the third line was formed of half the number of men as the first two. So the above might be a model of how the fighting was supposed to proceed, it probably would not do for a set of wargame rules.

An alternative would be something like what I have already described for the SPQR rules. We could, conceivably, deploy the Roman legion in two or three lines (with the skirmishers out front, of course) and by nifty rules work enable the Romans to pass through each other, thus simulating the relief system. In Polemos terms, when the front base recoils, it can pass through the second and third lines and pitch up, shaken but not destroyed, at the back while the second line takes up the burden.

So far as I can tell (and I have not done any more work on the idea that what is written here) this model would work, at least for the Romans and assuming that the legion really did work as we envisage. Whether a similar relief process works in other circumstances I am not sure. Did Macedonian pike have a similar sort of relief system? If not, then why not? If so, then why did they lose consistently to the Romans?

If we make the assumption that the pike blocks did not have a relief system, then the relief model outlined above would need some tweaks to ensure that the Macedonians do not become Romans. This is trickier than it looks in terms of rule writing, but I suppose it is possible. On the other hand, we could argue that the pike blocks were so deep to enable a different sort of relief system, based around the individual file, to be used, which would require a different sort of model.

At the current rate of progress, I could be talking myself into writing a set of rules for the Punic and Macedonian wars. As I have no Carthaginians at all and do not feel particularly inclined to start buying and painting any (already having two major projects and at least three campaigns underway) I shall leave the subject there, for the moment, and go back to pondering Korean troop interactions.

Saturday 23 March 2019

Dragon Lords

And now, long-suffering reader, for something completely different. I do not always read either ancient or early modern history. Nor do I always read military history. Occasionally I branch out, as the more astute among you might have noticed, into broader history, philosophy, philosophy of science and theology. Even so, the next work is still a bit of a departure for me, but it is good to stretch one’s horizons and ponder things anew.

The book in question is this one:

Parker, E., Dragon Lords: The History and Legends of Viking England (London: I B Taurus, 2018).

Now, Vikings are something I know little about, apart from the obvious that they came from Norway and wore helmets with horns on them. Unfortunately, neither of those two facts are actually true. Vikings have been traduced much as Boudicca’s chariot with the nice knives on the hubcaps and African history.  Vikings in England, at least, mostly came from Denmark, and the horns on the helmets are, well, shall we say the product of over-active historical imaginations and a few misreadings of the little evidence we actually have.

That said, Parker’s book has very little wargaming information, and is, I suppose, a bit more like a ‘reception history’ of the Vikings, perceptions of the Vikings and the sorts of Vikings the Middle Ages would have liked there to have been. Then as now, of course, history is hijacked (one might say kidnapped) to serve particular points of view, desires for the present and so on. Thus, for example, post-Norman Conquest Vikings could either become freedom fighters from oppression, or foreign oppressors. It depended, it would seem, on the writer.

There are a few other things in Parker’s book which are of interest. The question of sources presses. Who wrote what and why is the first one, but the complex genealogy of the later works, that is, how dependent they were on earlier chronicles and accounts, is a live and tricky question. Some authors had a good deal of information and chose to select it in ways which served their purposes, others had less information and either relied on oral sources (which may or may not be historical), legends, myths or simply made things up.

Overall, then, the book is about how historians used other historians. Its focus is on the Vikings and the perceptions of the Vikings. As England was regionalised, this, of course, depended on where you were. North and east of Watling Street, your view of Vikings might have been a bit more positive than to the south. On the other hand, your view of Vikings may well have depended on the view of your patron. After all (and this is a factoid that I was vaguely aware of, but had never come into focus), after Hastings the Normans did not have a particularly easy time, with various rebellions and or revolts (or resistance efforts), some of which were supported by Danish ships, men, and money. Hereward the Wake (of whom I had heard by dint of my grandparents living in range of Radio Hereward) was only a part of it.

The other thing that comes clear from this whole tricky historiographical mess is that there was really no such thing as a Viking, or even a Dane or Anglo-Saxon. While the languages may vary, all sorts of people got together and fought together. I, therefore, have come to doubt if a Danish army of the period, at least deployed in England, would be all that ‘Viking’, even minus the horned helmets. While an early era raiding party would, presumably be more Danish, the later armies, from before Cnut, would, it seems to me, be much more of a mix of types, arms and enthusiasm. Cnut used the rhetoric of conquest of an earlier age to legitimise Danish rule of England. So far as it can be true in any early medieval setting, not many objected to either the rule (once the opposition was deceased) or to the use of a partially imagined past.

Furthermore, England was even more parochial than it is now. Communications between the different bits was difficult and slow. The stories of different regions reflected local legends, people. places and events and were not necessarily part of any ‘national’ story. For example, the stories around (the mythical) Guy of Warwick centre on the Midlands and Winchester; such tales are not found in the north.

Incidentally, the Guy of Warwick stories solved a decade's long puzzle that the Estimable Mrs P and I had. As residents of the aforementioned burgh, on one of our walks, we passed a cliff with a ruined manor house on top of it. A perusal of the local OS map indicated that this was called ‘Guy’s Cliffe’, and much puzzlement was expressed as to whom this Guy was and why he had a cliff named after him. Parker explains that Guy of Warwick retired as a hermit to a cave in a cliff just outside Warwick after his heroic deeds had been performed. The cave was a nice little money earner for someone in the Middle Ages, even though the stories were legends.

I do rather digress, however. The book is an excellent one, and the lesson of it is more general than just the Vikings or early Medieval England. All sources in history are, to some extent, secondary. It is a fairly rare early historian acknowledges their sources and distinguishes written, oral and magical information. The situation is further confused, potentially at least, by subsequent authors. For example, Parker notes that the sixteenth and seventeenth-century antiquarians and historians, who first investigated the sources and translated them, had their own slips and misinterpretations. Hence, by one misreading, the Vikings were portrayed as drinking the blood of their enemies from those enemies’ skulls (or, possibly wine – I may be misrepresenting the misrepresentation, of course).

Recent work on DNA suggests that the conquests were neither as complete nor as bloody as history usually represents them. For the state of the North of England, William the Bastard is picking up much of the blame these days. I am not entirely sure about that – deindustrialisation also has its effects. But then the histories I’ve read are dependent on their sources and they might be misrepresenting or misunderstanding. Overall, it is a bit of a wonder that we know anything about the past, or, perhaps, we don’t….

Saturday 16 March 2019

A New Korea

One of the interesting things that can happen when the idea of world wargaming hits a research library is the unexpected. Someone, somewhere, has hit upon an idea that might just give some insight into wargaming, world history and probably a few other things which are not quite so expected.

I have just finished rebasing my old Early Modern period Koreans. Again, they are cobbled together from Irregular figures and fit the 100 AP DBR condensed scale army lists. Now, my recent interaction with said lists has been less positive than it might have been, but given that I already have the toys, and no historian will be harmed by the rebasing exercise, I went ahead and did it.

Subsequent to the rebasing activity, I read an interesting paper:

Andrade, T., Kang, H. H., Cooper, K., 'A Korean Military Revolution? Parallel Military Innovations in East Asia and Europe', Journal of World History 25, no. 1 (2014), 51-84.

As you may be aware, I am interested in the idea of a military revolution, mooted originally for Northern Europe around the end of the sixteenth century or so. Various historians are attempting to fit the story that the idea gives us around what happened in different places. Hence we obtain a Chinese military revolution, an Indian (or Mughal) revolution, and a Japanese one and so on. The key element of such debates turns on the influence and impact of gunpowder in these places, preferably before great numbers of Western ships and troops arrived.

The interest in Korea is, of course, focussed around the Japanese invasion of the 1590s.  By that time the musket was well embedded in Japanese military culture. Meanwhile, the Chinese had also been adapting to gunpowder weapons, probably for a much longer time than anyone else. Korea seems to have been a bit of a minor backwater in such things, along the same lines as England was in the middle of the sixteenth century. Korea had a mostly cavalry effective army, with part-time peasants as the rest.

The impact of the Japanese invasion was the major introduction of the musket or arquebus. There is some debate as to whether the Japanese fired the weapon en mass, as European armies were learning to, or exactly how it was used. Some argue that volley fire was used at Nagashino in 1575, others dispute it. Probably it was used in Japan by 1615. The development is intriguingly similar to that in Europe.

Of course, the use of a matchlock musket imposes certain restraints on the units using it. It is a bit slow to load, and so units are needed in depth. The Koreans developed a system of a unit five deep, and they sort of countermarched. That is, the first pair stepped beyond the sergeant, gave fire and returned to their places, and were followed by the second pair, and so on, the hope being that the first pair would have been reloaded by the time the fifth pair had discharged their weapons. This is, of course, comparable, but not exactly the same as, European countermarch systems.

The Koreans were aware of the problems with matchlock weapons systems, such as the fact that they do not work terribly well in wet weather. Thus they retained archers, to second and augment the firepower from the guns. A seventeenth-century source advises four thousand matchlock men, three thousand archers, two thousand mounted archers, one thousand heavier cavalry and a thousand sword and spearmen.

The idea here is that the musketeers open fire at about 100 paces and fire by the above-outlined method. When they have ‘exhausted’ their fire, the archers step up and deliver their fire. If the enemy get too close, the third layer of sword and spear armed troops (called in the sources ‘Kill Units’) step up and see the enemy off. Once they have done so, the musketeers and/or archer can resume their fire. The kill units, the authors argue, fulfil the role taken by pikemen in the West.

The authors go on to discuss the actions in the Amur region between Manchu forces and Russian Cossacks. The Manchu had, by the 1650s taken suzerainty of Korean and added highly regarded Korean musketeers to their forces, which greatly assisted seeing off the Cossacks. The authors concede that the numbers were small and the outcome of two small battles can hardly be determinative of how Korean and European forces would have fared in action against each other, but the implication is that it would not have been a pushover for the West.

Korea was not averse to incorporating foreign ideas into its armed forces. Captured Japanese soldiers were recruited, as was a Dutchman. Where the Korean ideas about how to use muskets came from is unclear. It might have been parallel development, it might be from Ming innovation and copied during the Sine-Japanese war, it might have been from the Japanese or their own invention. History does not tell us.

We do know that Western influence, including that of the Dutchman Jan Jansoon Weltevree, or Pak Yon to the Koreans, improved Korean cannons significantly. However, the most likely influence on musket tactics is the Japanese, and this suggests something of a difference between east and west. The Korean musketeers used by the Manchu were valued for their accuracy, which indicates they were using fowling pieces. The authors suggest that the Koreans were good marksmen and drilled to deliver continuous fire, rather than the Western inaccurate fire (but lots of it).

This suggests to me that the Japanese and Korean musketeers were using weapons which were slower to reload than their Western counterparts and that again to me, suggests a reason why the Koreans retained archers to cover the gaps in musket fire. Alongside financial and logistical constraints and a cultural preference for archery (again, we could compare with England here) the use of archers to cover the problems with muskets seems logical, if not inevitable. 

Saturday 9 March 2019

Rajput Rumblings

One of the problems with a rebasing project such as the one running at the moment is that the output of armies can outstrip my ability to play wargames. I suppose I am just that sort of person, a ‘completer’ in psychological terms. I have set my project end, which is to have rebased all my renaissance soldiers to current standards, and the project dominates my hobby time. Despite the estimable Mrs P reminding me that it is only a hobby and, in some senses, it does not matter. I agree entirely; I just cannot stop.

Still, I did manage a rebasing hiatus to put the Mughals on the table. I have no nice narrative for this; it was vaguely conceptualized as a Rajput rebellion against the local Mughal forces. The armies were put together based on what I have and on the DBR army lists, of which more is to be said later, probably.

The opening dispositions were as follows:

The Mughals are to the left, musketeers nearest the camera, followed by a base of rockets, infantry, archers and heavy cavalry on the far side, with the general and another elephant base as the reserve. The Rajputs are to the right, with a base of light cavalry, a block of archers, another block of archers and their lancer armed cavalry on the far side. The only reserve is the general’s cavalry base. The figures are a mix of Irregular colonial Indians and Baccus classical Indians. The buildings too are a mix of manufacturers, Irregular, Leven and I have forgotten what else.

Now the battle was close fought and I had to make up a fair few rules as I went along (which was part of the point). According to my reading elephants are not keen on gunpowder weapons, but that was not an issue here because the Rajputs did not have any. The rockets had to throw a six to hit anything and failed dismally. I really am not sure whether that was harsh or not.

Most of the action was on the Rajput right, where their heavy cavalry made a bit of a mess of the Mughals, but not a total one and the semi-victorious lancers were charged by the Mughal reserve elephants, partially successfully. The centre and Rajput right were confined to a long-range exchange of arrows and gunpowder, to everyone’s detriment.

The successful Rajput lancers returned and overran some Mughal archers on the central hillock while the Mughal elephants threatened the right of the Rajput centre. The lancers then charged the elephant in flank and routed it (it being the Mughal general), carried on and routed the accompanying Mughal cavalry and at that point the Mughal army broke.

In the picture, the Mughal general can be seen routing at top right, the successful Rajput cavalry just above the gun (which is my tempo marker) and the only lightly engaged centres and near wings of both armies sitting waiting just out of range of each other. The second Mughal elephant (with the shaken marker) is top centre having been brought to a standstill by the Rajput cavalry.

At the same time as running the battle, I was also reading Gommons’ book on Mughal Warfare (Gommans, J., Mughal Warfare (London: Routledge, 2002)). This throws up some problems with the DBR army lists for the Indian subcontinent. The main issue is that Gommons insists that the Mughal army remained, into the eighteenth century, one based on heavy cavalry and light horse archers. Now, of course, he could be wrong, and I intend to look into it, but there is very little light horse in any of the DBR Indian army lists.

Now, I do not want to be too harsh on the army lists. They were published in 1996, while Gommons’ book was published in 2002. On the other hand, in the early years of the Mughal conquest of India, the army was a more steppe one and that would be exactly a light and heavy cavalry combination. Gommons’ contention is that the military revolution in gunpowder weapons did not really happen in India until the eighteenth century, although the Mughals exercised a form of mobile power, moving the court around so the emperor could keep an eye on things and people.

There are a few other issues with the lists. Gommons observes that elephants became less used in the seventeenth century, possibly as a result of countermeasures related to gunpowder weapons. The DBR lists classifying zamindar and mansabdar cavalry also is not something that the Mughals would necessarily have recognised. Zamindars were nobles (a western term) with fixed land holdings, while mansabdars were nobles with non-fixed land holdings. These latter were often in places which had not been conquered, to encourage military activity. Gommons notes that the increasing transfer of mansabdars to zamindars meant that the Mughal Empire became increasingly localised and regionalised, which had disastrous consequences in the eighteenth century when it essentially broke up.

Overall, then, it seems that the DBR lists for India are a rather poor guide to the warfare of the era and continent. This is a pity, of course, and I shall have to look deeper into my resources to find some more horse archers to have another go. It does, of course, raise the question as a wargamer of whether it matters. If the armies are not strictly representative of sixteenth or seventeenth-century armies, the battle and the armies are fictional. The battle was fictional anyway, so why not declare the whole thing an imaginary nation with imaginary armies. I suppose the answer to that is how much emphasis we put on the word ‘historical’ in ‘historical wargaming’. We can never recreate history, of course, and anyone that wanted to exactly recreate a battle should be confined to a nice, softly furnished room, but how historical does historical have to be before were are entirely wargaming something that is fantasy, albeit with a dearth of elves, dwarves, magic and other such accoutrements. I am not sure, but I am still going to work on the army lists.

Saturday 2 March 2019

Carthaginian Capers

Battles, Alexander thought, were not as easy as his father had claimed. ‘Just slice through them,’ Daddy had said. ‘Have the companions at your back and they’ll just melt away.’

Well, maybe the Persians and Indians had done so for him. These Punic types, with Greeks and Celts and Moors, were no pushover. Even so, he had won, and some of his father’s veterans were giving him some respect now. After all, he had been in the thick of it, Companions at his back.

The problem was really, he thought, that the Carthaginians did not just run away when they had been beaten. Clearly, they had lost some time before they actually gave up. He was sure that one of the generals had commented that the hardest part of warfare was convincing the enemy that he had lost. Still, the Senators of the city had been summoned to attend him the next day, and they should be persuadable that surrender was the best way forward. He was not exactly sure why his father had taken against the city, but he was inclined to be merciful.

On the other hand, there were now even more nations to be punished for opposing him. He could deal with the Greeks later, but these Celts and Moors were much nearer at hand. After a few days rest the army would need to pursue the Moorish forces. A tyrant’s job is never done.


The slightly out of focus picture above (the camera focussed on the command group in the foreground, by the sea) shows the initial disposition of the armies by the sea. The Macedonians are to the left, the Carthaginians to the right.
A slightly better picture is below.

This is from behind the Carthaginian lines and shows most of the forces. Alexander and his Companions are to the right of the phalanx, opposed by the Carthaginian chariots (of Indian origin) and Greek-style cavalry. Gallic warbands await any phalangites who break through the thin crust of hoplites forming the centre of the Carthaginian army.

The Macedonian plan was to pin the centre with the pike and then launch the classic Alexandrian cavalry charge onto its flank. The Carthaginians realised the risk and were determined to hold the line, smashing any breakthroughs with the reserve warbands and Greek cavalry, while attempting to flank the Macedonians with superior light troops.

In the interests of balance, here is a view from behind the Macedonian lines.

I am sure it does not take me to tell you that neither plan worked terribly well. To start with, the Companions and phalanx advanced in step and the Companions charged at the same point that the hoplites threw themselves upon the pike and pushed them back. The chariots held the companions very nicely and it looked as if Alexander’s luck was out. Statistically, the Macedonians should have managed to win more than one of the eight combats.

Eventually, of course, statistics came through. The Macedonian breakthroughs were not terribly decisive, but they sucked the Carthaginian general into the cavalry combat which led to his demise, while Alexander survived two similar rolls.

The Carthaginian army morale only broke when they had lost ten bases plus the general. The loss of the general meant that flanking manoeuvres had to be suspended due to lack of tempo points, but this was balanced by Alexander’s involvement for most of the battle in combat, which meant that not much happened on his side either. The Companions and pike won the battle.

The end state is shown below.

In the distance on the right, the Companions are driving the rest of the Carthaginian chariots off the table, while a little nearer the pike mop up the remains of the hoplites. A quirk of the rules means that one hoplite base has driven two pikes practically across the table; the pikes are at breaking point but the hoplites just did not manage to finish them off. This is, in fact, why the late sixteenth century rules have a rule which indicates that two recoils give a shaken, which would limit this sort of thing. I think I shall implement it here.
Overall, it was a satisfying game, with a great deal of interest in how the plans worked out and also a good deal of head scratching as to how very limited tempo points were going to be distributed. As I mentioned, the light troops saw little action as a consequence of this, something which probably benefitted the Macedonians.

It was, I suppose, something of a relief that the Macedonians won; otherwise, this would have been a one battle campaign. Next up are the Moors, but a battle of a very different sort, I think, given that the Moors are all lights. Alexander III struggled against ambush and raid. On the other hand, young Alex can always sail away to Spain to try his luck there.