Saturday, 29 June 2019

There… And Back Again

My loyal reader (for there may be one) might recall that my world wargaming rebasing project seems to have stalled with the Manchu. In fact, this is not the case, and rebasing of my old, old figures has been proceeding apace. Well, not quite apace, but with reasonable alacrity, for me, anyway.

So to start off with, I have done the Koreans, and already written a blog post about them, so here they are:

You might object that they need some more firearms, and you would be correct. However, given that the musket armed unit are pinched from the Chinese anyway, they can gain reinforcements from either there or the South East Asian, of whom more anon. The figures are Irregular, the army composition DBR. The infantry formation seems to be correct from the paper I read and reported on a while ago.

Next up, we reach the furthest east, and more familiar wargame territory, Japan. The Samurai are the sorts of wargamer’s army that everyone seems to like. Whether it is the different but similar warrior code, assorted films or who knows what else I have no idea. But popular they are.

Again the figures here are irregular; I seem to need some more cavalry. There are enough troops here for three Samurai DBR armies at 100 AP, and I have fond memories of leading them to an epic defeat against a mix of Korean, Ming and Manchu foes, where the main problem was that after the first battle the Samurai had lost their cavalry, which meant their scouting was negligible and that they had no real answer to the Korean and Ming cavalry. I didn’t even know the Manchu were on their way until they appeared on the table of the last battle, where the remnants of the invaders were already holding out against the odds.

Heading back towards the Occident, the next encounter is in South East Asia, a surprisingly under-represented era of wargaming. Full on warfare with colourful armies and elephants. What more could a wargamer want? All right, there is a bit of a dearth of information about what actually happened, but when has that stopped any wargame? The only thing I can say is that, as with India, the use of the elephant was being reduced as they do not like firearms (sensible creature, your elephant, really) and it was difficult to train them to tolerate them. Anyway, Irregular Miniatures again, cobbled together from various ranges.

I have to say I do wonder about the Burmese elephants (at the back of the elephant column in the picture). Somehow Irregular has crammed 12 troops onto one platform. I know Burmese nellies are reported as having up to sixteen crew, but if I were an elephant with that many people on board, I think I would at least go on strike for more pay, if not suck up a mix of water and mud (and, possibly, other things, it would depend on annoyance levels) and spray the humans until they got off.

Next across are the Indians, but I have already covered them, so moving swiftly on we have an assortment of Arabians and North Africans. I think this lot should represent more or less any army from Oman to Morocco, but I do have my doubts. I am also hoping they might double up as Grenadines for the last stages of the Reconquista but again, I would have to think about it.

The Taureg are the scary heavy camels to the left of the picture. The North Africans also have a few Janissaries as they got garrisons from the Ottomans when they assumed suzerainty. Again, these are Irregular figures, cobbled together from assorted medieval and colonial ranges, Fuzzy-Wuzzies in particular, I think.

Being nearly back to the west, we have to divide into various time streams. It has to be admitted that Western armies, in wargame terms (if not in overall historiography, although I suspect it is similar) are allowed to evolve, while non-Western armies are pretty well static. The truth is, of course, Western armies and societies have been studied in detail, while the rest have been lumped into one era or another. So, first up are the Italian Wars, Irregular figures plus some Heroics and Ros.

Here we have extensive numbers of gendarmes, Swiss pike and crossbowmen, alongside a few other things such as jinites, stradoit and the odd arquebusier. Some of these had been rebased before for the Armada campaign, I admit. But who is quibbling?

Hanging around in the Sixteenth Century still, I have some English (bill and bow style units, with Border Horse), some longbows and dismounted knights (H&R figures), demi-lancers and mid-century foot. These tend to be used rather ad-hoc (as the originals were, in fact), and those of you who were interested might have seen some of them in action in the Armada campaign games.

Shifting into the Seventeenth Century, we reach what are probably my oldest 6 mm figures, which are Irregular Miniatures from the mid-1990s, for the English Civil War. The ECW was my first main focus of wargaming when I was a lad, so when I returned it seemed like the obvious thing to do.

As the picture shows there are quite a lot of these. I think I just kept on buying and painting before I moved out into other parts of the ‘Renaissance’ wargame world. The three rows at the back on each wing, incidentally, are dragoons, and the rearmost infantry regiment is from the Irregular ‘restoration’ range, so a tiny bit later. But I’m all for variety.

For those of you falling asleep in the parade, I’m nearly done. Next up is the artillery park. I like guns, and I still have a few more to re-base.

This lot are all Irregular, except for some Baccus stunt crew members, and stand in for artillery of all nations and periods. I have some mortars and battalion guns to paint as well, and a few Heroics and Ros artillery pieces to base up. I doubt if I could ever deploy this lot all at once, however, and artillery were not the most useful part of a field army.

Finally, we have the Scots, so we are now at another extremity of the world. These are a bit more of a work in progress, having been painted and rebased for the Armada campaign. I am aware of the lack of musketeers for the ECW period, and also that not all Scottish cavalry were lancers. The highlanders are a mix of Baccus and Irregular, the rest are Baccus, but not the latest style releases. You can’t have (or paint) everything.

Now, in case you were thinking that that was everything, my former self was more industrious that you might believe (or I can, either). There are still hordes of Aztecs and their foes and Inca in my drawers (ooh, er, missus), and War of Spanish Succession and Great Northern Wars in a box. The latter are a bit muddled up, so will require some sorting. I also have some more ships and a load of Renaissance galleys which will need sorting, rebasing and repairing.

A wargamer’s work is never done, but now I think I would like to manage some actual wargames. Is it too much to ask?

Saturday, 22 June 2019


I suppose that every historiographical lash has its backlash. I mentioned before, I think (and anyway, it is “widely known”) that the interpretations of the English Civil War (War of the Three Kingdoms and Wales, whatever you want to call it) have been heavily influenced by Marxist interpretations of history. Thus the war is seen squarely as to do with the rise of the gentry/bourgeoisie, the merchants, lawyers and so on who dominated Parliament, the defying of feudal assumptions about society and, ultimately, the rise of the political voice of the peasants and working class, seen through the Levellers, Diggers, Quakers and so on.

Now, of course, this narrative can be challenged and has been, at almost every turn. Quite a few of the Parliamentarians were from ancient ‘feudal’ families, for example. A fair number of Royalist supporting MPs were merchants and lawyers. The emphasis placed on the Diggers and their colleagues is not representative of the mass of the labouring poor; indeed, the leaders of these sects were hardly representative of anyone except themselves.

The historiographical upshot of this has been a ‘revisionist’ history for the wars, with a far greater emphasis on the individual, their decisions and historical contingency. Thus, a great deal of the blame for the chaos of the 1640s has been placed on the King, Charles I, and his decisions (or, more precisely, his lack thereof), vacillations, plotting and  general untrustworthiness which eventually led his opponents to cut, as it were, the Gordian Knot and remove his head. But really can the King really be blamed for the whole crisis and its nasty dénouements?

There has been, in perhaps more popular works anyway, a move towards blaming other people again. As I noted a while ago, Leander de Lisle ((2018) White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr. London, Chatto & Windus) places the blame on the group of London politicians who opposed the King, including Pym and Warwick, who had been in traitorous correspondence with the Scots during the Bishop’s Wars and needed the war to cover their tracks. Well, maybe, but perhaps we need to track back a bit before that; Charles’ personal rule had not, after all, been spectacularly successful.

I have just finished another work which blames another set of people:

Thomson, O. (2018). Zealots: How a Group of Scottish Conspirators Unleashed Half a Century of War in Britain. Stroud, Amberley.

The subtitle says it all really. The book argues that a set of lairds and ministers in Fife started the whole disaster that befell Britain in the middle of the Seventeenth Century. Fife, the author points out, had good connections to the continent, particularly to the Danish and Swedish parts of Northern Europe. A number of mercenaries, particularly retirees from Swedish service, also bought land there or thereabouts and formed connections with local politicians and Kirk leaders.

The upshot of this was that when the Scots, particularly the Kirk leaders, felt the heat from the King and his ministers over the new Scottish Prayer Book in 1637, there was a ready-made set of radical ministers, politicians and professional soldiers in Fife to start a war and to win the first few bits thereof – that is, the two Bishop’s Wars and the First English Civil War, up to and including Marston Moor. After that, of course, the Scots lost, and lost, in the long run, rather heavily.

Now, I am not going particularly to get into the blame game. Lots of candidates can be named as culprits in starting the wars, as well as a fair few broader factors such as the real economic distress of the series of poor harvests. Drawing attention to one or another particular group is helpful but not necessarily as decisive as some authors seem to think. In starting a war, or a struggle for independence, or the traditional way of life, or whatever, there has to be an opponent, and that opponent contributes to the conflict by their actions, for good or ill, as well.

Still, Tomson does do a few useful things in drawing our attention to the Fife connections of the Army of the Covenant: a fair few chaplains and commanders at Marston Moor came from the area. In addition, he does draw attention to the importance of religion as a determining factor. He sees the civil wars are being largely motivated by differing visions of Protestantism, the Anglican (or more specifically, perhaps, the Laudian), the Presbyterian, as put forward by the Scots as the settlement for the whole of the country, and, ultimately, the Independent, non-conformist ideas that sort of triumphed under Cromwell (and sort of did not).

Thomson suggests quite strongly that the Presbyterian vision of the Kirk continued through into the 1680s leading to the persecution of various sects in Scotland after the Restoration, assorted armed uprisings and further fighting. Only with the ‘Glorious Revolution’ did a degree of stability return, except, perhaps in the Highlands. James II had, after all, worked hard to create a party there loyal to himself, and this was the start of the Jacobites who, of course, went down to disaster in 1715 and 1745.

Thomson notes that the Jacobites mad the same mistake as the Scots in 1648 and 1651 by invading England via the western route. The successful Scots invasions of the Bishop’s Wars and first civil war were via the eastern route. The implication seems to be that if Bonnie Prince Charlie had been sufficiently on the ball, the Jacobites would have aimed for Newcastle and then York, and succeeded. Well, maybe, and maybe not. It would require a number of conditions to be met, such as Berwick, Newcastle and York to be either undefended or ignorable. The Jacobites, so far as I am aware, did not have the men to both continue the invasion and lay siege to Newcastle, as Leven did. But then, I am not a Jacobite expert.

Overall, this is an interesting book which gives a partial account of the civil wars from a Scottish perspective. Is it convincing? Well, I think at best we can say case unproven but if it provokes some more work on the subject it will have done its job.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Models and Targets

Here, as they say, he goes again. I have been saying for quite some time that wargames rules, and associated figures and terrain, are models or, strictly speaking, sets of models. To that end (among others) I have been reading this weighty academic tome:

Weisberg, M., Simulation and Similarity (Oxford: OUP, 2015).

Now, Weisberg’s book is a discussion of the role of models in science, mostly, and, as such, turns on a number of distinctions which might not apply to a wargame. However, I think the overall description of models that Weisberg comes up with does apply, and I also think that there is some assistance in the book with regard to some of the things about models and wargames which have puzzled me recently.

Overall, Weisberg describes a model as being one end of a system, the other end being the target, the real world object being modelled. Thus, in the Bohr model of the atom, the model is the mathematics and concepts associated with it. The target is the real world hydrogen atom and its spectrum. Similarly, in the predator-prey system, the model is the linked differential equations and the real world target is the number of foxes and rabbits (or whatever). Finally, of course, a model of the battle of Waterloo has the historical event as its target.

Weisberg proposes that there is a similarity function between a model and its target. That is, the modeller tries to maximise the overlap between the phenomena the target possesses and those which are part of the model. The modeller also tries to reduce the number of structures in the model which have no real-world equivalent. They may also, in due course, make the model more complex to represent more features of the target, of course.

I have noted before how this tends to happen in physics, specifically atomic structure calculations. The model is created and results calculated. Broad agreement, say with the energy levels of carbon, are found, but then fine structure is incorporated by considering electron spin-orbit coupling, and then hyperfine structure and so on. A broad brush model is refined to something that really quite closely resembles the target through a process of refinement.

In wargaming, of course, things are not quite so simple or predictable. There is only one historical incident which we can call the Battle of Waterloo. We can, and do develop many sets of models for this target, but each model will (or may) emphasise different elements of the known elements of the target. Thus a model developed by someone with an interest in artillery may well differ from someone who believes that cavalry were the decisive arm. If we add to this the variety of background assumptions that have to come with any model (for example, most sets of wargame rules rely on arithmetic, geometry and the fact that cannon-balls move in a straight line) then we can land up with a complex set of complex models, all of which purportedly target the same historical event.

The practical upshot of this seems to me to be that there is never going to be a perfect set of wargame rules. This, to most wargamers, is hardly likely to be a startling revelation, but hopefully it might give some of the evangelists for one rule set or another pause for thought. The point here is that different models (even in the sciences) pick out different phenomena as the important ones to simulate. Some others, which other people might think are important, fall by the wayside. Thus the grounds for many a dispute over rules and interpretations are laid.

It is possible to have a model system which has no specific real-world target. Thus, for example, Richard Feynman famously modelled a perpetual motion machine. Naturally, everyone knows that such machines are impossible; there is no target real-world system in this case. What is interesting for this is why the machine is impossible. The model, however, still has no target.

I wonder if this might be the answer to my question of a few posts ago about ‘historical’ wargames without historical armies or events. For that matter, it could also be the answer to what fantasy and science-fiction wargames are about. These are certainly models or sets of models. They satisfy the criteria for being a wargame – figures, terrain, rules and so on. However, there is no real-world target for them. In this sense, then, they are exactly target less models.

A target less model is not necessarily a bad thing, as the Feynman example tells us. It provides some insight into how the world works, even if the upshot is that the world does not work like that. A wargame of a generalised Napoleonic battle may still generate insights into how Napoleonic warfare proceeded, and why some things happened as they did. Of course, it is a little more difficult to see this in fantasy and science fiction wargames, although some things (like basic physics) remain the same. I was once helping out creating a set of science fiction rules and got into an argument about why laser weapons were not subject to the inverse square law of diminishing effectiveness. Sadly for those why tried telling me I was wrong, I do actually know what I am talking about here.

Still, most fantasy and science fiction wargames are based on some aspects of real life. The best fiction in the genres is actually related to the world as it is (or was when the work was written). That, of course, raises the rather ghastly concept of the Warhammer universe being a comment on the ways politics have been developing in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This may be hard to imagine, perhaps, but also alarmingly possible.

Anyway, I think that the answer to my question of a few posts ago is this: my wargame was a model, but had no real-world target. That does not invalidate the model, of course, but in my case, as a historical wargamer, I probably need to use real-world targets to check that validity.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

The Mughal Empire at War

My loyal reader will have noted recently an emphasis on interest in South Asia, the Indian sub-continent and points allied to it. You might also recall a certain confusion arising from reading Gommon’s book and pondering the role of horse archer in the region. Complexity adds to complexity as we discover that, really, there is very little written about military history in South Asia, at least before the colonial period.

This book:

de la Garza, A., The Mughal Empire at War: Barbur, Akbar and the Indian Military Revolution 1500 - 1605 (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017)

Is a recent addition to my library and is a most useful tome in trying to work out what might be going on in the period. De La Garza’s point is that military history in South Asia has missed out the whole ‘drums and trumpets’ bit of historiography which underpins much of the more recent work on the subject in the west. In short, there is no Oman or Delbruk for India. Recent work on the military in South Asia, therefore, focusses on more war and society type studies and entirely misses out the purposes for which armies were constituted in the first place. There are few, if any, studies of battles before the rise of the East India Company in the eighteenth century.

De La Garza’s work, therefore, is to try to unpack a little about the battles the earlier Mughals fought, how they evolved, and something of the tactics that were used. As such, it constitutes an extremely useful book for a wargamer, discussing all those messy and unpleasant bits of warfare (like battles, wounds, firepower and so on) which contemporary military historians tend to shy away from. He even has sketch maps of battle tactics and how various counter-strategies were used and themselves countered.

The basic point to be drawn from the book is that the Indian battlefield was a fire-heavy environment. Initially, this firepower was provided by Central Asian horse archers; the early Mughals kept close links with places like Samarkand and considered themselves, essentially, Mongol tribal leaders. However, Barbur, in the early sixteenth century, recognised the importance of gunpowder and proceeded to integrate it into his battle tactics. The problem was, of course, how to do so in an already fluid and firepower rich battle environment.

Barbur seems to have acquired his ideas from Ottoman sources, either directly or indirectly. This was the ‘Roman method’, of battle. The infantry, as in Ottoman battles, were deployed in a wagon laager or field fortification, together with the artillery. The light horse screened this and provided fast-moving, hard-hitting wings, supported by the heavy cavalry (which itself could deliver a fair bit of firepower, being bow armed). An interesting sideline on this, which I did not know, is that the wagons in the laager were deployed facing the enemy, with the infantry behind. Thus, I suppose, any charging cavalry were the length of the wagon and the traces away from the vulnerable infantry. You would need a very long lance indeed to do any damage at that range.

De La Garza makes the point that, from some points of view, crossbows and muskets are more useful than longbows. Both the former can be aimed without the expenditure of energy, and so can be used by infantry lurking in cover or behind field fortifications. The Mongols, he says, hated crossbows. Indian infantry, as with their East Asian counterparts, appear to have liked to aim at specific enemies. Not for them is the massed firing into massed bodies of troops favoured in the Western world. De La Garza also notes that crossbows and muskets could be used by relatively untrained troops, whereas horse archery needed huge quantities of skill and practice, and longbows also needed much more training. Musketry, therefore, was cheaper to assemble in large quantities and, in general, packed a bigger punch than longbow archery and, particularly, horse archers.

We have then an emerging picture of a Mughal army with a central infantry core of muskets and other firepower, such as camel guns, rockets and artillery. The wings were of horse archers, and the whole usually assumed the strategic offensive, while necessarily maintaining the tactical defensive. To this arrangement the initial Indian armies had no reply, relying on a central charge of heavy cavalry which was stopped and then outflanked by Barbur’s army. However, the opposition soon adapted, which led to the defeat of the Mughals by trickery (usually) by Sher Shah Suri; the two armies created fortified camps and waited to see who would starve or whose nerve broke first. It was only dynastic misfortune which handed India back to the Mughals.

Given all this, and the adaption of gunpowder into Indian armies, why was this military revolution only partially followed through, and why did it ultimately fail in the eighteenth century against Western-trained forces? There is no single answer to this. Possibly the Mughals lost access to warhorses and trained horse archers from Central Asia; certainly there was a decline in horse archers with the more widespread adoption of gunpowder in those parts. Partially, De La Garza suggests, the Mughal empire was a victim of its own success. It simply became too big to need to innovate One of the points both De La Garza and Gommons make is that the Mughals dominated to military manpower market in South Asia and sucked into their armies most of the easily available soldiers. Thus, little in the way of rivals could emerge.

Finally, De La Garza suggests, the Mughals were set on the road to destruction by Aurungzeb, the last of the ‘great’ Mughals. He seems to have rather overthrown the basis of the empire in toleration and allowing talent to be rewarded, as well as getting bogged down in an interminable war in the south of India, while the regional rulers in the north quietly started to go their own way. Thus, by the time the Europeans arrived in force the market in military manpower was open and regional politics allowed the British in.

This is, as I noted, a real book of history, but with a special meaning for wargamers and is highly recommended. I dare say I will be reconstituting my Indian forces in response to it.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Warrior Queen

Now, there is another title to get the teenage pulses racing and memories of top-heavy chainmail bikini-clad ladies with big swords doing battle with assorted monsters on 1970’s fantasy books and role-playing games. Aim, shall we say, at a certain demographic, I suspect that many who brought and read the books or played the games were somewhat disappointed by the lack of female interest in them (either the readers, players, books or games), but I do not doubt that similar, if not more explicit marketing techniques are still used.

Be that as it may, I really do want to write about a ‘warrior queen’ this week, in this case, the female half of the well-known Renaissance double act Ferdinand ‘n’ Isabella, that is Isabella, Queen of Castile. This is largely for two reasons. Firstly, I have just finished rebasing my Italian Wars collection of figures; secondly, I have just finished reading this:

Downey, K., Isabella: The Warrior Queen (New York: Nan A Talese / Doubleday, 2014).

Now, the fact is that while Castile and its associated territories were quite happy with the idea of a female monarch, Aragon and its territories were not. Isabella was, therefore, Queen of Castile and Queen Consort of Aragon, and Ferdinand was Prince Consort of Castile and King of Aragon. Are you with me so far?

Isabella was not really expected to come to the throne and had to stage a sort of coup in Castile to remove her half-brother’s probably illegitimate, probably non-daughter from the succession. She did this without hubby to oversee the process and was Queen of Castile in her own right. Downey argues that Isabella sent out letters in both names, often with Ferdinand first, to avoid frightening the patriarchal horses. However, she also argues that in most cases it was Isabella who was at the helm.

As wargamers, of course, we know two, possibly three things about this famous double act. Firstly, there was the Conquest of Granada. This was a major undertaking and a major success for Christendom, coming a relatively short time after the siege of Constantinople and the aggressive expansion of the Ottoman state. It was, in truth, a nasty war of raids and sieges, and has not captured the wargame imagination as much as you might expect. Nevertheless, strategically, it was probably a necessary war, as it removed a Muslim state, which could have been used by North African and Ottoman generals as a bridgehead to invade (or, depending on your view of history, re-invade) Spain and the rest of Europe.

That said, the Spanish struggled to start off with and were very much helped by Grenadine divisions. Isabella did not don chainmail (or even plate, which was in vogue at the time) and wave a sword, but she did sort out the logistics for supporting the Christian armies and exerted a moderating influence over terms of surrender for the strongholds. This was so much the case that, apparently, when she arrived at a besieged town the occupants surrendered, reckoning that the Queen would ensure that better terms were offered and that they would be adhered to. Downey notes that this seems to have been when the queen in chess became the most powerful piece on the board, as well.

Anyway, the second thing most wargamers know about Ferdinand ‘n’ Isabella is the outbreak of the Italian Wars. Ferdinand was King of Sicily and his cousins reigned in Naples and were very unpopular. The French also had a claim to Naples and invaded in support of that claim in 1494, bringing siege artillery which Italian fortifications could not stand against.  After a fair bit of dithering (which seems to have been fairly typical of Ferdinand) the Spanish dispatched a force of mainly Castilian troops under Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba, known to history as the ‘Great
Captain’. I suspect that the activities of the general in Italy are well known to most wargamers, especially those who have read Oman so I will not say much here, except to note two things I didn’t know about him. Firstly, that in a brief campaign against the Ottomans he seized Cephalonia, which was the first (re-) capture of Ottoman territory ever. The island was held by the Christians and became the base for operations for the battle of Lepanto. The second thing to note is that Ferdinand was insanely jealous of his reputation as a general (Ferdinand’s was rather patchy) and ordered him back to Spain and, so far as possible, ignored him, after Isabella’s death.

The third thing which many people should know but possibly do not is that Isabella was the sponsor of Columbus’ voyages of exploration, albeit after some humming and haring. She also seems to have realised the potential of the discoveries before more or less everyone else, including Columbus himself. Her interest was more along the lines of evangelism rather than most people’s get rich quick schemes, but she was by no means averse to getting the money in as well. However, it is to be noted that the lot of the Native Americans became much worse after she died as Ferdinand was much more interested in the money than the propagation of the faith or the well-being of uncounted numbers of new subjects.

There are, of course, a few blots on the copy-book. Isabella did start the Spanish Inquisition, although she did her best to stop it from turning into the extortion racket it later became. Again, this development seems to have gathered pace under Ferdinand. The policy towards Jews and Moors left after the surrender of Granada did change from toleration to persecution, exclusion, forcible conversion and exile. Isabella, for all her relative sensitivity for human life, did not take kindly to heresy which at the time defined both Judaism and Islam.

So, overall, very interesting, and I have a few ideas for some more campaigns. I also have realised that apart from Oman I do not have much about the said Italian Wars, so that is something to look at. Finally, of course, Isabella’s grandson was Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain and ruler of the Low Countries. That seems to me to count as a dynastic win, anyway.