Saturday 25 December 2021

It’s That Time of Year...

I suppose it was inevitable that one year Christmas Day would fall on a Saturday, and hence on blog posting day. That year is this year.

It has become ‘traditional’ on the blog that I offer some rules for any reader’s Christmas present, and there is no reason why this year should be any different. Mind you, tradition is a slippery word; how many times does something have to happen before it becomes a tradition?

Anyway, this year’s offering is the Ancient Rules which I have developed, and which you may have seen in action on the blog over the past year, in Caesar’s invasion of Britain and in the various attempts at Marathon. The link should work for all and sundry, but I may have messed up.

These are indeed the ‘Polemos: SPQR Light’ rules which I started after returning to the original and finding them a bit clunky. They are in tandem with the Wars of the Counter Reformation rules (which really need a new name, extending as they do now from the Hussites to the Great Northern War). You might well need a copy of PM: SPQR to play them; being very short there are doubtless lots of unspoken assumptions that I am unaware of lurking within.

Still, I have worked to try to remove some of the ambiguities of the original rules. The interpenetration and combat outcome rules should be a bit more transparent, and the army morale rules have been reworked. You still have to do a bit of mental arithmetic, I’m afraid. But doing such things is good for the brain.

For reasons that escape me the Ancients Rules start from 20 base armies, while WotCR start from 12. I suspect this is because I am a poor and lazy painter and baser, and just wanted to get to toys on the table when I came to rebasing my Early Modern figures. That is now coming back to bite me, of course, as the battles are expanding, especially as I have discovered that 20 bases a side fit on one of my card tables without looking too squashed or losing the flanks on the table edge.

These rules are not designed as a replacement for PM: SPQR, by the way. I still think the latter give a good game and model the legionary / tribal foot interaction quite nicely. But time and interests move on. These rules cover hoplite warfare as well, although I have not got around to anything that looks like the Punic Wars, or Rome after about 200 AD. Rather than tinker with SPQR, I went for something newer, shorter, and sketchier, and this is the result.

Enough waffle. Enjoy the festive season and the rules, if you dare.

Happy Christmas.

Saturday 18 December 2021


I have been frantically painting. Well, not frantically; after all, wargaming and even painting toy soldiers is a hobby, not a necessity. But I have been painting. This has been for two reasons. First, I have ordered some more toys, and so need to have the equivalent number painted before Christmas to prevent the unpainted lead pile from growing any higher. This means that 288 little fellows need daubing. So far I have managed 216, so not too far to go.

Secondly, I have been trying to finish the English Civil war Irish and Scots. This is for two reasons. Firstly, they have been hanging around for nearly two years. While that is trivial compared to the length of time of of the toys have been waiting, they have been in a kind of half-painted limbo land. The second reason is a bit better grounded. It is usually easier to focus on painting something when you have a specific project in mind. In this case, in mind was the battle of Benburb in 1646.

I won’t bore you with the detailed background to the conflict in Ireland in the 1640s. As Blair Worden noted in his short guide to the English Civil War, the definitive account of the war(s) in Ireland starting in 1641 remains to be written. Even to professional historians it is, to say the least, confusing.

Suffice it to say that to get to Benburb the Anglo-Irish Scottish army (I will call it ‘Scots’ below, just for ease of reference) commanded by Robert Munro marched a long way to meet up with some reinforcements, failed, and was met by an Irish army led by Owen Roe O’Neill. The Scots seem to have slightly outnumbered the Irish. It seems that Munroe expected the Irish to avoid battle, but O’Neill, having been supplied by the Papal Nuncio, decided to fight.

The Scots were tired, having marched about 15 miles on the day, but they attacked anyway. Accounts, inevitably, vary. I followed Gerard Hays-McCoy in the dispositions of the forces, and the return of some of the Irish cavalry from dispersing one of the Scottish columns. The rules were my own Wars of the Counter Reformation. The Scots were given one level of terrain shaken to start off with, reflecting their tiredness.

The initial dispositions are above, Scots to the left and Irish to the right. The river Blackwater is nearest the camera, and the Irish cavalry (or the rest of it) will arrive from the far side of the battlefield upon the Irish rolling a six on their tempo dice. The figures are mostly Baccus, with the exception of a couple of bases or Irish lancers.

To be honest, the Irish horse which you can see are also Baccus figures. But Baccus does not produce Irish horse, so I repurposed some Scots to them. I do have some surplus Scottish lancers as well, and I could have painted them as Irish (the only difference is the colour of the caps – blue for Scots, green for the Irish. Unhistorical, agreed, but I need some quick recognition on the table top). After all, I wanted to have a battle.

Anyway, historically, the Scots cavalry attacked the Irish left first, and so that is what happened. The picture shows how badly it was going. O’Neill turned one of his infantry units to face them (they are up a slope as well, by the way} and moved the cavalry around to assist. Good Irish shooting has seen the rout of the first wave of Scots, who can be seen running away between their mounted colleagues and the foot. The infantry, meanwhile, are starting to cross the stream.

It did not get much better for the Scots. Their second cavalry wave crossed the stream and were charged and routed by the Irish horse. The -1 from the fatigue and the -2 from not having reformed having crossed the stream crippled them, of course.

The final dispositions can be seen above. The Irish cavalry have arrived, crossed the stream and are now menacing the Scottish rear. Munroe has moved his remaining cavalry towards the centre to counter the threat, but that means the Irish left wing horse have now crossed the stream and charged, and routed, some musketeers. In the centre the Irish are crossing the stream under only intermittent fire from the Scottish artillery, while on the far side the Irish infantry has routed two more musketeer bases (good shooting, again, although the Scottish -1 did not help their cause).

At this point the Scottish morale dropped and the army routed. It was probably just as well, as the Irish left wing horse were about to run further amok, and the Scots were running out of options.

It is always nice when a set of rules, especially experimental ones written by me, produce a historical result. I did wonder whether the -1 for the Scots was too swingeing, and I still do. Perhaps it should have been on close combat dice only, not all shooting as well, but then firing a musket was a pretty physical affair. I might try the battle again without the Scots at penalty and see what happens. It was not a particularly easy victory for the Irish – some of the dice rolling they had was appalling – but it was a victory for all that.

Historically the outcome was as in the wargame. The Scots were more or less knocked out of the war, at least in any active sense, and the Irish went on to fall out among themselves until the English Parliament got itself organised and reconquered the land.

It is interesting that some accounts blame the Scottish loss on lazy soldiers shortening their pikes for easy carrying. Perhaps they did, but then so, perhaps, did the Irish. The idea has percolated down the ages to modern wargame rules, however, which downgrade the Scottish pike. It seems much more likely that the Scots lost because they were fatigued, rather than their pointy sticks being a bit shorter than the opposition. But we all love a technological explanation, even if it is wrong.

Saturday 11 December 2021

Ethnic Warfare

 Unfortunately, we have heard far, far, too much about ethnicity-based warfare of late. Most notoriously there have been ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaigns in the Balkans, let alone the Holocaust and various warfare massacres in Africa. If I could bear to think a little more widely, I am sure that plenty more instances would occur to me.

There is, of course, nothing much new under the sun. Sometimes, however, a new angle opens on something I thought I knew a little about, and reading this book:

Cramsie, J. (2015). British Travellers and the Encounter with Britain 1450 - 1700. Woodbridge: Boydell.

This was an unexpectedly hefty tome but fascinating and, while not obviously related to wargaming, bought the mentioned unexpected light to bear on the subject.

In all honesty, I should have known something about the ethnic relations around the English Civil Wars. I have, after all, read this:

Stoyle, M. (2000). Caricaturing Cymru: Images of the Welsh in the London Press 1642 - 46. In D. Dunn (Ed.), War and Society in Medieval and Early Modern Britain (pp. 162-179). Liverpool: Liverpool University.

Sometimes, however, the connections are just not made in my mind.

Still, Cramsie’s book is fascinating. Actually, he starts with Gerald of Wales, upon which all other ethnographers of the early modern world built, I think. In the time frame, he can survey changing attitudes of differing Britons to themselves and their neighbours. The result is an interesting, although rather alarming, picture.

Various viewpoints were carried over, of course. Classical authors regarded the Welsh, Scots, and Irish as being barbarians. Originally, the term meant only that they did not speak Greek, but it did come to be understood as uncivilised, and so it was. Various authors saw other parts of Britain through this lens. Scottish women hitching their skirts up to tread their washing were regarded with derision, for example, although Cramsie suggests that this became something of a literary trope, and its reality is a little vague.

Things changed, of course, during the period of the study. Wales was incorporated into England by Henry VIII. The view of the English of the Welsh changed, as did the Welsh view of themselves. This was particularly true (and not a little confusing) in Pembrokeshire, which was regarded as England beyond Wales; the writers and travellers knew that the Flemings had been settled there (and elsewhere) after the Norman Conquest and believed that made a difference.

As Stoyle’s chapter suggests, the outbreak of the English Civil War also changed the representations of the peoples of the archipelago in the press as in other writings. The Welsh, insofar as any had an opinion, were largely Royalist in sentiment, and this brought an outpouring of anti-Welsh satire and vituperation in the media. From being proto-English, the Welsh became English haters, papists, looters, impoverished thieves, and so on.

It would seem from another of Stoyle’s articles that the Cornish were treated in a similar way. The wargame representation of Cornish foot, is of course, as superior pikemen, A more contemporary view would place them as warrior paragons (if you were a Royalist) or as pagan thugs if you were Parliamentarian. As with so many things, wargamers have picked up on one or the other, usually the paragon side (a victory for Royalist propaganda, it seems). The Welsh, who probably provided more royal foot than Cornwall, do not get the same sort of appreciative treatment by wargamers.

Newcastle’s army was officered by Catholics, at least in part, and this led to animosities between them and the army of the Fairfaxes and the Eastern Association. Also, of course, the Scottish army came with issues of its own, both against the Catholic officered army and also, fairly quickly, with the Independents of the Eastern Association and Cromwell. These issues could be characterised as religious in nature, but there were also ethnic divisions both between English and Scots and within England – the north-south divide goes back many centuries.

The Irish, of course, suffered from both ethnic and religious animosity. The revolt of 1641 was whipped up into a massacre of immense proportions – far more Protestants were reported as being murdered than had actually been in Ireland at the time. The animosities continued, of course, and were used by Cromwell as the reasons for the massacres of Drogheda and Wexford. There were other issues naturally which interwove with this – the rules of war, for one, and setting an example of what would happen if other garrisons did not surrender was another. Still, ethnic and religious issues were a significant part of the whole.

I noted before that the New Model Army attacked camp follower women in the royalist camp after Naseby. These were probably Welsh but were claimed to be Irish. In Hutton’s book on Cromwell (discussed here recently) he argues that after this the New Model Army, or at least its commanders, Fairfax and Cromwell, became much more willing to negotiate. The invasion of Cornwall in early 1646 was, at least in part, a charm offensive, albeit with teeth. That is not to say that ethnic tensions had declined, but that the army leadership was starting to take a more pragmatic approach to end the fighting.

There were other issues and tensions within the British archipelago, naturally. The obvious one missing so far is between the highland and lowland Scots, which was noted in Cramsie’s book and exploited by Montrose and his cronies. This can also be viewed as an inter-highland clan war and had religious overtones of course. But the point is that these issues added to the tensions and potential for violence and massacre. These, sadly, ensued.

So, there you are. An extra string to our views of the English Civil War and strife in early modern Britain. Nothing is ever simple, and the causes of the English Civil War continue to be argued over, but ethnic tensions are nothing new. The early modern writers understood that the British, in their most general sense, were a mongrel race. As Cramsie notes, this does not sit well with modern nationalism any more than it did in the Seventeenth Century.


Saturday 4 December 2021

Fighting the Elements

‘Isn’t it a bit late in the year to be trying that?’

‘It is, your highness, but I think the Dutch are getting a bit desperate.’

‘Why? I mean, we’re hardly in a position to move on Bergen until the spring.’

‘They probably do not know that, ma’am, and even if they do then our blockade on the place is going to make it a difficult winter for them. So we think they think that they have to give it a go. The question is, ma’am, whether you authorise us to stop them.’

‘Now, let me get this right. We have expended considerable money, ships, and not a few lives to capture Onetee and Teetwo, have we not?’

‘Yes, ma’am.’

‘The purpose of capturing these ports was to blockade Bergen. Is that correct?’

‘Yes, ma’am.’

‘To this end, we have positioned two fleets, one at each port. Yes?’

‘Ma’am is quite correct, ma’am.’

‘And now you are asking me for permission and authorisation to send those fleets blockading the port of Bergen to, let me see, what was it? Ah, yes, I have it. To release the fleets to go and blockage Bergen.’

‘When you put it like that, your highness, it does not seem that we particularly need your authorisation. But I thought it best to check.’

‘I do like to be kept informed, but go, and get on with it.’

‘Yes, ma’am.’


You might recall some amphibious operations in the Low Countries over the last year or two on the blog. These come under the campaign title ‘Small Boat Sailing’ and you can catch up on the campaign from the link of the same name to the right. Of course, given that this is a naval action, most of you will stop reading at the end of the sentence.

For those of you who have carried on, the plan is this. The Dutch are trying to relieve Bergen by sea, and are therefore escorting a convoy of twelve merchant ships to the port. To do this they have to pass by Onetee and Teetwo, the two smaller ports on the estuary, which were taken by the Spanish earlier in the year. The Dutch have twelve medium-sized warships to do the escorting. The Spanish have their light fleets from their ports, twelve small-sized warships each.

After some thought, and realising that I was unlikely to be able to recreate the battlefield from the first wargame in the campaign, I reasoned that the best place to intercept the convoy was on the open sea. There would be more room to maneuver, for one thing, and the terrain would be much easier to set up. The initial dispositions were, well, no one was on the table, so it would be a bit of a boring photograph.

A couple of dice rolls established that the Spanish fleets would appear on the table at moves three and six, giving the Dutch convoy a bit of a start in crossing the table. Here it is in all its glory.

The ships to port and starboard of the main line are the escorts, and the convoy is topped and tailed by larger warships. The ships are, as I recall, a mix of Hallmark and Tumbling Dice, with value removed by my own painting.

After a few moves, the Spanish arrived, and jockeying for position started, not helped by a variable wind direction and slowly worsening weather.

The general aims of the admirals can be seen, bearing in mind that the Dutch objective was to exit via the far left corner of the table. The rear half of the convoy has just split off to aim to pass the Teetwo Spanish ships to the starboard and get across the table being them, shielded by the starboard escorts. The rest of the convoy is aiming straight for the exit (-ish; they have adjusted to starboard a bit to get their escorts aiming towards the Spanish interceptors from Onetee.

The Spanish Teetwo fleet, at the far end of the table, is aiming straight for the convoy, while the Onetee fleet, to the left of the photograph, has split in tow. One half, consisting of the cutters (as it happens, these are in fact Napoleonic era ships, but I wasn’t arguing when I bought them, and I’m not arguing now) is aiming to get in front of the convoy and give it a few broadsides, while the rest is aiming to get behind the port escorts and into the rear of the convoy.

This all took a bit of thinking about. One of the interesting things about purely naval wargaming is that there is quite a lot of positioning to do and, with a variable wind (perhaps a little too variable, but I’m neither sailor nor meteorologist) and ship speeds as a consequence, it is all a bit complex.

Anyway, did I mention that the weather was deteriorating? At turn eleven it hit storm, having already been to light rain (reduced visibility) and then heavy rain (even less visibility – the fleets, although closing actually lost visual contact). I had to invent some storm rules, deciding that each ship would vary from its course by the difference of the throw of two average dice in base widths.

Chaos, naturally enough ensued, as seen above. None of the fleets have managed to maintain any semblance of formation and have only just maintained their courses. A lot depended on the wind and weather rolls on turn twelve, If the weather improved, the action could be sustained. If not, then it would be every ship for itself to scramble into a safe port or stand out to sea to weather the storm.

The roll was made. The storm remained and the wind also stayed the same. The scattering of the ships continued and the game was wrapped up.

In a normal wargame, of course, this would be a disappointment. In a solo game as part of a narrative campaign, that is not the case. The convoy has failed to get to Bergen.


‘They had to go home, then?’

‘Yes, your highness.’

‘Bergen should fall to us next year?’

‘If we maintain the blockade by land and sea, your highness, it should fall into our hands like a ripe plum.’

‘Plums only ripen in late summer.’

‘Yes, your highness. I am trying to think of an early-ripening fruit but am failing at present.’

‘Your strategy is correct, admiral, but your metaphors are lousy.’

Saturday 27 November 2021

Do Battles Matter?

There was an interesting exchange in October 2021’s History Today magazine, entitled ‘How Important Was the Battle of Lepanto?’ As every wargamer will know, the 450th anniversary of the battle was in October this year; hence the articles.

Most wargamers would probably answer ‘Of course Lepanto was important; it turned back the Ottoman tide and victories matter.’ On the other hand, as Geoffrey Parker notes in his article, Lepanto did not matter as the Venetians had already lost Cyprus, which was the point of the campaign in the first place.

Kate Fleet argues that Lepanto really did not change anything, as the Ottoman naval strength was not undermined and they continued operations in the Mediterranean theatre for several years, reconquering Tunis in 1574. The real factor, according to her, was the Ottoman defeat at Malta in 1565 and the turning of Ottoman resources to land warfare with Hungary and Iran. This was compounded by economic difficulties.

Kiril Petkov notes firstly that novel technology (presumably the impact of gunpowder, although this is not defined) can be decisive against sophisticated, seasoned, and formidable opponents. Further, Lepanto was perceived as being important and psychological factors are vital. The Ottomans had been thought of as irresistible. Now it was seen they could be defeated.

Finally, Roger Crowley notes that the battle was devastating to those involved but the victory did seem to go nowhere. The Ottomans replaced their fleet over 1571-2 but it was expensive and skilled men had been lost. The real upshot of this was to show that galley warfare was unsustainable; with human-powered vessels command of the sea was unwinnable. In 1580 Spain and the Ottomans disengaged; both sides were more or less bankrupt.

As wargamers, battles are important to us. As such, of course, we accrue the derision of many ‘serious’ historians who argue that really the important things are the history of ideas, economies, and history from below, the real people who went through all the traumas of life. Winning battles is a minor part of history and is largely ignored in modern historiography. From history’s point of view, battles do not matter; treaties, formalising who won, do and are worthy of study.

Well, nearly, but not quite. There is interest in battles and it is, slightly, on the increase. This is because of the movement towards ‘history from below’. Partly this is because the memoirs of ordinary soldiers are available, and their experiences can be (after a fashion) accessed. Of course, the reason they wrote was because of the extraordinary events they had been involved in, that is, in campaigns and battles.

Austin Woolrych once noted that surely who won the battles was rather important. As a consequence how they were fought and why was also important, and so the study of military history is a component of understanding who won and why. After all, if history is written by the victors, working out how and why they won is fairly important. Historians, on the whole, do not seem to be very comfortable with this as an idea. The messy business of sticking pointy sticks into people to prove some sort of point is often ignored for rather more pleasant understandings of warfare, often related to who had to money to win.

Partly the upshot of this is that military history gets denigrated and sidelined. In the pages of History Today, in interviews and book reviews often the least favourite historical genre is military history. Often it is regarded as poorly done, methodologically inadequate, and often false. That, of course, might be a consequence of the fact that historians are uncomfortable with the whole idea of chronicling military operations. The legacy of the ‘drums and trumpets’ sort of military history lives on.

Thus we land up with a circular problem. Military history is poorly done because ‘serious’ historians do not want to engage with it. Thus ‘amateur’ historians write about it and because they are not academically trained historians they make a rather poor job of it and hence the genre gets a worse name. And so on. There are, of course, some notable exceptions to this, but these seem to be the impressions and views which get propagated.

Woolrych’s view was, of course, that battles in the English Civil War, at least, did matter. Marston Moor lost Charles I the north; Naseby lost him the throne and Preston lost him his head. Even a winning draw, such as Second Newbury had its importance, as it was part of the process of creating the New Model Army under a more radical leadership determined to actually finish the war. I think it would be rather hard to argue against the fact that these battles and their consequences were important. Perhaps that is why many historians of Seventeenth-Century Britain prefer to examine the Protectorate or the Personal Rules of Charles rather than the civil war itself.

So did Lepanto matter? Geoffrey Parker probably gets it right. While Cyprus was lost and the Ottomans replaced the fleet, the loss of the fleet meant that operations could not start again from the Gulf of Lepanto in 1572. Operations against more Venetian outposts in the Adriatic were not possible, nor was an attack on Crete. And that may well have mattered. If the Ottoman navy had been intact in early 1572 the war may well have dragged on, if not hotted up. Spanish and Ottoman resources would have been poured into the Mediterranean theatre. In the former case, possibly to the detriment of operations in the north against the rebel provinces, or indeed to the 1588 Armada. We cannot, of course, know what would have happened. History is not a natural science; the experiments are not repeatable.

As wargamers, we can seek out the broader context of our battles and buy and read the better sort of military history. We can leave the less good books, such as the endless tomes on belt buckles of the Third Reich where they belong, in the remainder bin of history.

Saturday 20 November 2021

The Spin Doctor

Recent reading has made me a little sceptical of claims made by the ‘victors’ in battle. As noted recently, Oliver Cromwell was not above spinning his victories, to the extent of turning losing draws into wins and generally bigging up his role in all and every combat he took part in.

I suspect that Julius Caesar was another such spinner of the truth. As you might recall, I have been fighting my way through his first invasion of Britain. The invasion onto the beach was a close run thing but Julius finally managed to overcome the opposition. The second action was the Ancient Britons attempting to stop the Romans from collecting their corn. A lucky bow shot felled the Celtic general at an unfortunate time and Caesar managed to rescue his troops.

The third and final action is described in The Conquest of Gaul VI.35. After the hazardous extrication of his foragers, bad weather stopped military activity. The natives spent the time gathering a large force of infantry and cavalry. Julius drew up his forces in front of the camp and ‘before the engagement had lasted long the enemy were overpowered and took to flight. Julius boasts that he had acquired thirty horsemen, and the Romans pursued. The Britons then sued for peace, according to our Julius, and so the Romans sailed back to Gaul.

Forgive me for being a little suspicious, but why, after all that, did the Romans sail away? If he had been that successful why not conquer the place and have done with it? After all, the Romans had largely supplied themselves from the Celtic grain, had they not? Or is it all just a tissue of half-truths put forward by Jules to cover over an not very successful foray to the edge of the known world?

Still, the third battle was to be wargamed. A Roman force of twenty infantry bases (17 legionaries, 2 bows and a bolt shooter) against twenty Ancient Britons (3 light chariots, 3 light cavalry, 3 skirmishers and 11 tribal foot infantry). The Romans would miss their cavalry, but I did not think Caesar’s claim of having thirty and implying that they were important, at least in the pursuit phase, merited representation.

The problem Caesar has is that he has an entirely pedestrian army against one which is fifty per cent light troops and the rest heavies who can charge any of his bases that might be disrupted. He cannot afford to wait for the enemy to come to him, as they will come and slowly shoot him to bits. So he has to attack.

The picture shows our Jules doing just that, and the Celts responding with their skirmishing lines. The cavalry on the far side, and the chariots, on the near side, pelted the Romans all battle with javelins to, well, not much effect, really, but they did have a crucial role to play in the Roman defeat, as did the near side skirmishers. The Celtic skirmishers ensured that the legionaries were disrupted for critical parts of the game, just in time for them to be hit by charges from the tribal foot.

The key combats were in the left centre, where Celtic charges saw off four cohorts, and on the near side (Roman right) where the skirmishers flanked a charge and turned a recoil result into a rout. The centre-left of the Roman lines also, slightly earlier, disintegrated under the impact of the tribal foot charging cohorts which were no longer in a group with their neighbours due to heavy fire from the skirmishers.

The picture shows the disaster in the Roman centre with four cohorts making off. The fact that Jules himself with the reserve was on site led to a swirling combat with the Romans seeing off one set of tribal foot (those with the brown shaken marker, indicating they are rallying from the charge) while presenting a flank to the rallying tribal foot commanded directly by the British general, who are pursuing the cohorts they have just routed.

You can also see some rather exposed Roman archers in the centre, who are about to be charged and routed by some tribal foot and, on the near side, the British skirmishers who did for the nearest cohorts of Jules’ other legion. Caesar was later heard to describe them as ‘those flankers’. At least, it is thought that is what he said. By contacting the Roman flank as the charge went in they turned a recoil result, which the legion could have stood, into a rout.

At that point, the Romans had lost eight bases out of twenty, and their morale slumped to rout. The British were not undamaged, having lost two tribal foot bases in the centre and the right flank skirmishers to Roman archery. Slightly amusingly, these routing tribal foot and some Roman cohorts landed up running practically side by side…

And so another campaign finished, this one based on Caesar’s own account. With the exception of the final battle, it went fairly much as Julius claimed it did. It seems to me that it might have been rather tougher than his spin allowed for. As for the final wargame, well, Julius’ luck did rather abandon him; some of his rolls were unfortunate. On the other hand, his total lack of cavalry was always going to make it a tough game. He has to attack to have any chance, and that lays the legions open to disruption from the skirmishing light horse and chariots and then the disrupted cohorts being picked off in detail by charges of the tribal foot.

Having played through the games and pondered Caesar’s accounts with a bit more of a sceptical eye, I suspect that Julius was spinning his adventures a bit. After all, if he won such an emphatic victory at the end as he claimed, why did he so readily agree to terms and push off back to Gaul more or less on the same day?

Saturday 13 November 2021

Armada Abbeys – The Wrap Up

There really is little more to tell of the battle at Kildale. The English attacks went home, and Don Pedro’s tactics of defence in depth (which were forced on him by the narrowness of the terrain) did not work. Perhaps he should have put his cavalry and musketeers up front. The English used their light horse well to shield the infantry columns from artillery, and when the men with big choppers in their hands (ooh-err missis) got into the village it was all really over.

It has to be said that Don Pedro’s dice rolling was awful, and the English rolling was lucky. Nevertheless, Don Pedro was forced to retreat and, as the English army was hot on his tail and the Scots looping around via Guisborough on the longer but faster route to Whitby, the Spanish would be forced to surrender.


At the ninth wargame, therefore, I think the Armada Abbeys campaign has finished, and I suppose there is scope for some reflection. Firstly, I think, the campaign was a lot of fun, spreading as it did over the Cleveland plain and, latterly, up into the edge of the North Yorks Moors. Don Pedro fought a good fight, I think, and deserves his rioja when he gets exchanged back to Spain.

On a more global scale, of course, King James VI of Scotland will have done his claims to succeed Elizabeth as the true Protestant defender no end of good. His gamble in leaving potentially Catholic rebels in the north and marching south to aid the English succeeded in spade-loads. Having seen off his own opposition at Coldingham he then foxed Don Carlos and crossed the Tees, following that up with the beating of the second Spanish army at Northallerton.

In my mind, the Scottish musketeers were the star performers, with the artillery coming a close second. The Spanish cavalry did well, the infantry not so well. The English, once the militia had been defeated at Whitby and Guisborough on the Spanish outward march, were rather nondescript, except their light cavalry. These sorts of impressions on the wargamer’s mind bear no relation to reality, of course, but they are the way things seemed.

As for the campaign, it was a narratively formed activity. I had no map (except a reprint of a Tudor map of Yorkshire, which has very small print for North Yorkshire) and a bit of local knowledge. The conceit of the campaign was that each wargame would be played in the shadow of a dissolved abbey or another religious house. Hence we had Whitby Abbey, Guisborough Priory, Northallerton Friarage, and so on. Kildale, incidentally, did have a priory.

I long ago decided that map-based campaigns were too difficult to maintain. The problem is that the administrative load becomes too great. Even in simple campaigns, the wargamer starts to resemble a quartermaster rather than a general. Granted that professionals study logistics while amateurs study tactics, but I am, and much of the wargaming hobby is, amateur. I do not, particularly, want to run my campaign from a spreadsheet.

One way of looking at wargaming, I suppose, is that it is a means of story-telling. The plots can be fairly simple, or really convoluted. With most plots, and with most wargames, there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. Perhaps there are twists along the way – the side that seems to have won suddenly seems to have lost, but then wins in the end, that sort of thing.

In common with much story-telling, simple plots tend to get boring. Line them up and have a go, with the only outcome aimed for being the defeat of the enemy army, palls for most people after a while. Campaigns tend to be too heavyweight for many, so scenarios give more complex stories, different narrative arcs, and some different objectives. You could characterise some of them as ‘quests’ for example – intercept the convoy and capture it, or intercept the princess and carry her off to the lair. Role-playing games are often of the quest format, for example.

There are, of course, a number of other sorts of plot around. You could, if you were so inclined, describe the Armada Abbeys campaign as a sort of voyage and return, possibly in multiple characters. What did Don Pedro learn about invading foreign countries? What about King James? And so on. The very fact that I picked on these characters and outlined their responses tells me something about the plot arc that the campaign followed.

Not that the outcomes were pre-determined. At one point I did think that Don Pedro would be going into winter quarters around York and that the spring would find him marching south. Don Carlos’ loss at the Friarage put paid to that, of course, and put the Spanish on the defensive. The key action, on reflection, was the light cavalry clash at Mount Grace, which enabled the English to build a fort at the road junction which helped to destroy Don Carlos’ defeated army after Northallerton. But I did not know that when I created the action. Even stories we make up for ourselves can surprise us.

As any reader of the blog will know by now, I have a number of these campaigns on the go at any one time. Partly that is dues to the wide variety of armies for the ancient and early modern periods I have collected over the decades, and partly it is to do with the reading I do and, perhaps, a predilection for spinning yarns about them. Some campaigns never get beyond the first battle, of course, or never develop into much of a narrative. Some, like the Armada Abbeys, do.

I am not claiming that the campaign was flawless (which wargames are?) but the campaign conceits did keep the interest and focus going. I got a variety of scenarios into the wargames as well, from a beach landing to a rearguard action. And so it finishes, with Don Pedro and honoured prisoner of the English, and King James about to be named heir presumptive to the throne of England. History as it never was...

Saturday 6 November 2021

The Battle of Kildale

‘You tak the high road, ald I’ll tak the low road,

And I’ll be in Whitby afore ye.’

‘Your majesty?’

‘For heaven’s sake general. You pursue the Spanish through the hills, and I’ll go via Guisborough and cut them off from the port. Surely this strategy thing is not that difficult.’

‘I see what you mean, sire. I shall order my troops accordingly.’

‘See you on the other side, laddie.’


Finally I have nerved myself for what looks to be the final action in the Armada Abbeys campaign, which has been running a while (since January 2018, to be specific) and has involved eight battles so far, without counting the offshoot campaign in Ireland. You can catch up with the narrative of the narrative campaign from the link to the right.

A brief synopsis of the situation has Don Pedro and the invaders rocked back to Stokesley after the collapse of Don Carlos’ army at Mount Grace. Don Pedro, now faced by both an English and a Scottish army, has little choice but to retreat back towards Whitby, whence he came. He is aware, however, that the shortest route between his current position and the port is over the edge of the North Yorks Moors along the valley of the Esk.

As the conversation above suggests, the Scottish King, James VI (who is rapidly firming up his chances of succeeding Elizabeth to the English crown) is taking the lowland route through Guisborough, while the English army is directly pursuing the Spanish into the hills. Don Pedro hopes to blunt the English pursuit early and thus pass unimpeded to Whitby before the Scots bar his route.

Don Pedro made his stand at the village of Kildale, the first major defensible point going into the Moors. The village is in fact on the line of the (19th Century) Esk Valley Railway, which is certainly a scenic route to get to Whitby. In fact, the road and the railway criss-cross each other all the way across the Moors.

Be that as it may, Kildale is on a sort of plateau (sort of) in the hills, with high moors to the south and north, and a sizeable dip between it and the northern hills, where Captain Cook’s Monument is these days. This struck me as being a particularly difficult terrain to build with my limited resources. Avid readers of the blog will have noted that hills do not feature particularly strongly, or noticeably, in my wargames.

Still, not being one to be defeated (not quite) I cast around for a means of making a hill / plateau / dip / hill terrain. My desparate eyes alighted on the bookcase, and so the terrain was constructed.

The picture shows the view from behind the Spanish lines (I. e. from the west). The southern moors are marked by the rocks – these are impassible. The slope is very steep. Indeed, when such things happen, these hills are the venues for fell runs. I did consider using cat litter (Piper might have agreed to give up a little) to mark the hills but decided that such a substance and felt terrain sheets probably would not go well together.

Still, there is then a flat bit where the village is, with Kildale Manor nearest the camera, delicately screened by woods so the plebeians cannot see what the local gentry are up to. Don Pedro’s headquarters are, of course, at the manor. Then comes the dip, with St Cuthbert’s church down it. This might seem odd, but it is there and, if you approach Kildale from the east you have to look very carefully to see the top of the tower. These days the railway line cuts the church off from the rest of the village, a fact which causes funeral directors no end of bother. The church is approached by a footbridge (which may be unique in England, I have no idea; it is certainly unusual).

In the dip there is a small stream (which might be the headwaters of the Esk, I am not sure) and the ground then slopes steeply up (not quite as steeply as the southern side). Captain Cook’s monument is on the top of that bit, a bit further north. The whole field is crossed by the Cleveland Way from right to left, incidentally.

All in all the terrain is probably one of the most complex I have created, which probably does not say much for my creativity. The figures and trees are Irregular, by the way, and the buildings a mix of Leven and Baccus. The books are by Aristotle, Coplestone, Israel and Hobbes. I doubt any, except perhaps the latter, would appreciate their tomes being used in such a way.

The plan of the Spanish was to hold defensive positions around Kildale for as long as possible, counter-attacking with the cavalry, to hopefully send the English reeling back towards Stokesley and to permit the retreat towards Whitby to proceed apace with no further interference. The English plan was to hopefully overrun the Spanish positions quickly and with few casualties. After all, the campaign seems to be won and lost, so getting loads of people killed seems a poor way forward, and Her Majesty would not be pleased.

I am starting to run short of words, having waffled on about the terrain for so long. The english approach from the west, of course, and are in ‘alerted march order’, that is, the know the enemy is nearby but not exactly where they are.

After a few moves the view from the north was as above. The English are fully on the board and the borderers have disposed of the Spanish light cavalry (with some very lucky dice rolls, admittedly). They are clearly planning and assault on the village with two columns of troops, the bill and bow nearest the camera and the pike and shot pn the road. Don Pedro has moved his infantry up to the south of the village and is hoping that his artillery and skirmishers will hold the English off for long enough for their supporting musketeers to arrive.

Saturday 30 October 2021

The Making of Oliver Cromwell

 I have been reading, even if the blog posts do not necessarily reflect the fact. Actually, not everything I read is wargame related, and rather than drift off into the intricacies of Seventeenth-Century religious radicals or the multiple universe interpretation of quantum mechanics here, I try to keep those ramblings elsewhere – on the MOAT-SM blog, linked from the right, as it happens.

Still, I have been reading something more wargame friendly, this time:

Hutton, R. (2021). The Making of Oliver Cromwell. New Haven: Yale.

I have seen this book reviewed a number of times and it has received a fairly enthusiastic reception, and, I think, with good reason. I have seen one reviewer (Judith Maltby in the Church Times) complain that there is a bit too much military stuff in it, but that might be because our Oliver spent quite a bit of the time duration of the book engaging in military activity. It might also be that the military stuff sells books, of course.

The book covers the early career of our Oliver, from birth to 1646. One of the things that Hutton is clear about is that there is rather little to go on until the 1630s. Rather than speculate, as some other historians have done, or build myths around what scraps of evidence we do have, Hutton refuses to go beyond that evidence. Cromwell moved about a bit, from Huntingdon to St Ives to Ely in the 1630s. That much we know. He seems to have fallen out with the political elite in Huntingdon and been reduced to being a tenant farmer in Ely. He was the tenant of the Bishop, incidentally, who was one of the most Laudian of the House of Bishops.

Sometime, probably in the early to mid-sixteen-thirties, Cromwell experienced a Puritan conversion. So far as I know, other people who experienced such a conversion made quite a lot of noise about it, but Cromwell, as a rather poor tenant farmer, does not seem to have, say, kept a spiritual diary as some of his contemporaries did. Not that it was required, I suppose, but his views, and how they changed, are a mystery to us.

By the end of the 1630s Cromwell’s fortunes had improved, due to the death of his rich uncle (whom Oliver had tried to get declared insane a few years earlier, possibly in order to get his hands on the money sooner). He was also in with the in-crowd of Puritans, in Cambridgeshire and with links more broadly through family ties with some of the leaders of the ‘Junta’ of politicians opposed to the King’s policies, particularly on religion. He had been MP in the 1629 Parliament and was elected for Cambridge for both the Short and Long Parliaments.

At Parliament, Oliver was an active if fairly minor player. His main claim to fame seems to have been as defender of John Lilburn, who, throughout the book, is someone Oliver seemed to have rather a soft spot for. As I recall, later in his career, when Lilburn was a general pain to the authorities, Cromwell still acted with a degree of leniency. Freeborn John was a nuisance, and Leveller influence in the army was a bit of a problem, but Cromwell did not really see direct action against Lilburn as the solution.

Anyway, Cromwell slowly came to the fore as a Parliamentarian as the crisis of 1641-2 developed and was dispatched to Cambridge to defend it in the summer of 1642. He was fairly active within the limits of his remit, attempting to intercept convoys of plate from the university colleges to the King. How successful he was at that is a bit moot, but here we do start to see some active spin-doctoring by Cromwell and his supporters. Intercepting one load of plate was the news. Failing to intercept the rest was not news, nor was the fact that, quite possibly, the intercepted plate got through anyway.

Cromwell’s role in the defence of what became the Eastern Association is quite well known, and Hutton covers it in some detail. He always draws attention to the issues surrounding the historical record. For example, the defence and loyalty of the Eastern Counties was not assured. Crowland fell into the hands of the Royalists several times. King’s Lynn revolted against Parliament and, if Newcastle had not withdrawn north the invest Hull, he might well have overrun the Eastern Association, which, at the time, had the biggest army and biggest tax bill in Parliamentary land.

Cromwell also learnt. At his first major action, his charge got out of control and when he returned to the field the battle was lost (or, according to accounts favourable to him, had been thrown away by disaffected parties). His cavalry does not seem to have subsequently had the same problem. That said, at the major action of the first civil war, Cromwell’s side seem to have had the bigger numbers, which does mean that they could have kept a viable reserve. Exactly how good the Eastern Association horse could have been against equal numbers of the best royalists is not known, although Hutton notes that in 1645 former troops of Cromwell’s double regiment were beaten up by Goring’s horse.

Oliver had a tendency to divide the world into good and evil. The royalists were evil and, as Hutton notes, were dehumanised in some of Oliver’s battle reports (’God made them as stubble to our swords’). As the war developed the New Model (after the slaughter of Welsh women after Naseby) became more willing to accept surrender by the royalists, as the battle lines between the Independents and Presbyterians started to harden. This would be an interesting theological-historical debate, which Hutton ducks. By 1646 the royalists were defeated, by the hand of God, in Oliver’s estimation. God’s instrument in that was the New Model Army, which was slowly becoming dominated by the Independents. The Presbyterians, including the Scots, did not acknowledge this and wanted to exclude the sectaries from the church settlement. Therefore, it seems, at some point, the evil enemy switched for Oliver from being the royalists to being the Presbyterian party in Parliament.

By the end of 1646, the battle lines were drawn. At this point, the book ends, but there is the promise of another two volumes to come. The book is highly recommended for anyone trying to make sense of Oliver and his manoeuvrings, or who is interested in the English Civil War.

Saturday 23 October 2021

St Ouen’s Beach

There I was, starting to think about some English Civil War battles (by modern conventions, this sentence should have started with a ‘so’, but I disdain such redundancy). And behold, I picked up Julian Lander’s ECW battles volume one, for DBR (as used before) and flipped through it, but could I find something that caught the imagination? Could I heck, as they say.

After some thought and two cups of coffee, I resorted to the Internet. After all, Elixheim had been an internet discovery. Incidentally, I did a second go at Elixheim and, with the cavalry charging at a trot rather than a gallop, the Duke managed to win this time. I did take some photographs but they do not make much sense. However, I found little which tickled my fancy and was about to resort to two regiments of foot, two of cavalry, and two guns and see what happens as a scenario, when I dropped across operations around Jersey.

Guernsey, apparently, was mainly for Parliament, while Jersey was royalist in sympathy, under the Carteret family. As part of the mopping-up operations after the battle of Worcester, Robert Blake was dispatched to capture Jersey, more or less the last outpost of the royalists on British territory, in October 1651. There is a decent write-up of the history of the operations here. It is amazing what you can find on the web.

Anyway, after a few autumn storms and a bit of sailing up and down, Admiral Blake and Colonel Heane landed, after a naval bombardment, at St Ouen’s Bay and the west coast of Jersey. They had about two thousand men, from Hearne’s regiment and from that of Sir Hardress Waller’s, two companies of Guernsey militia, and two troops of horse, on eighty ships (including transports, only 6 men of war are known). They were opposed by Sir George Carteret and the Jersey militia, plus a couple of units of Carteret’s own men, who presumably formed the garrison.

My take on this operation looked like this.

Nine companies of militia are on the beach, while Sir George himself patrols the high water line. In the top right corner, you can see St Ouen Manor, where the royal cavalry is stationed. The coast road, to the right, leads to St Brelade, where another three companies of militia are stationed, along with Carteret’s fusiliers and two companies of dragoons.

At sea, you can see the edge of Blake’s force, six fourth, fifth, and sixth rates. The Parliamentarians actually spent most of the night in boats, it seems, which cannot have been too comfortable in October, even in the Channel Islands.

The landings did not go according to plan. The picture above shows about six moves into the action. The Parliamentarians are pinned on the beach, subject to fierce counterattacks by the militiamen. After initial success in the landing on the right, the troops there are being forced back by the men under Carteret’s personal command. The left was delayed by deep water and was kept from organising by the shot of the white-coated militia. A desperate attack up the beach led by Colonel Hearne has had only limited success.

To the rear of the royalists, you can see the cavalry are starting to arrive. If there are any Parliamentary foot left by the time they get there (they were delayed in setting out due to low tempo point rolling by Carteret) they will almost certainly see them off before the second wave of the landing parties arrives. In fact, only two sets of ship's boats have made it back to the men of war, and so any reinforcement for the beach head is going to be some time in coming.

It did not last much longer. The Parliamentary musketeers on their left took more damage and routed, as did their colleagues next to them under attack from the militia pike. On the Parliamentary right, the attempt to outflank and destroy the militia musketeers foundered on bad dice rolling and that company of musketeers fled as well. Half of the landing force was now destroyed and it was only a few moves before the cavalry and the reinforcements from St Brelade would start to arrive. Hearne, his troops at ‘fall back’ morale, had little choice but to attempt to re-embark his battered forces and hope for better luck next time.

In reality, Carteret’s militia seems to have mostly fled overnight, while the Parliamentary soldiers were in their boats waiting for high tide. Of what was left when the landing started, the militia fired three or four volleys before taking to their heels. The royalist cavalry did oppose the landing, but did not manage much. Over the next week, Blake and Hearne secured most of the Island and seized St Helier. Part of the force remained there blockading Elizabeth Castle while the rest moved to Mount Orgueil Castle, which surrendered the next day.

Attention then focussed on Elizabeth Castle. This was left to Hearne to blockade (it was nearly impregnable) while Blake moved to Guernsey’s Cornet Castle. Hearne brought up mortars which had an impact and, eventually, after hearing that Charles II was in France (after Worcester) Carteret received permission to obtain the best terms he could of surrender. This occurred on 15th December. Castle Cornet surrendered at the same time.

My landing and the real-life account of the landing do not, of course, square up. In a sense this was deliberate on my part: a wargame where half the opposition deserts before a shot is fired, and most of the rest fire a volley or two before fleeing is hardly a wargame. On the other hand, I have had some easy victories for the landing forces (the Spanish at Whitby) and some hard-fought victories for the landing forces (Caesar against the British). To some extent, the dice rolls were not kind to Hearne and his men.

The militia was also demoralised and tired from marching up and down the coast road to defend against the various feints that Blake made towards landing. This too was not represented in the game, and nor were the ideas that the royalists were defeated and there was not much point in carrying on, or that the taxation imposed by Carteret was hugely resented.

Still, it was fun and might be repeated, or Blake might have another go. The troops, incidentally are Irregular, the small rowing boats are Tumbling Dice, and the ships 1:2000th scale Conflict Miniatures Anglo-Dutch Wars. This is an odd scale and they do not really fit with my 1:2400 scale rest of the naval forces. They are also badly painted (by me). I am not sure whether to set to and repaint and base them or to go for Tumbling Dice replacements. Ships are fiddly things….

Saturday 16 October 2021

Writing Rules

Recently, the Heretical Gamer has taken up the challenge of Anglo-Norman wargaming with a series of games around the Anarchy of Stephen’s reign. He has used rules including DBA and Neil Thomas’ Ancient and Medieval rules, but not the ones published with the articles the scenarios are based upon. As I have not read the articles I do not know the ins and outs of the rules that came with them. I am not going to comment on the actions reported, as they seem to be good, well organised wargames to me, but ponder a bit about how rules could be written for the period.

The first problem to be encountered is that, really and truly, little is known about the fighting of the period. The actual activity of the soldiers is very hard to establish from the records we have, and the historical record gets more and more patchy the further down the scoial class you go. That is, we can have a fair stab (pardon the pun) at how knights fought, because the chroniclers were from the knightly class (even if, as most of them were, they were monks). The audience too was from this class and so wanted to know how their heroic sons, cousins and, of course, selves fought each other with honour and chivalry. The infantry are rarely mentioned.

The fact is, however, that infantry were at all (or most) of the actions. We are not sure how many (chronicle numbers are always suspect) nor do we really know what they did. We do not know how many archers there were, for example, nor how many of those might have wielded crossbows. Our sources are, simply, not interested in such things. We are on slightly firmer ground with the accounts of the Crusades, where infantry were acknowledged as being important, but then the warfare was different as the Franks had to adjust to a form of warfare which simply did not exist in the West.

Another problem which we have, that is related to the point about the chroniclers, is that the last hundred years or so has seen the era from the fall of the Roman Empire (in the West, of course) to the outbreak of the Hundred Years War as the era of the mounted knight being a battle winner. This might have something to do with various analogies, such as the medieval knight as a ‘tank’, where in the First and Second World Wars the tank was seen as the weapon par excellence which won battles. This might not be true, of course (I am not a world war wargamer, but I am aware that in both world wars artillery did rather have a voice in action), but the analogy was very attractive. It just seems to have been wrong.

The other point of view, actually similar to the above, is that nothing much of any interest happened in the Anglo-Norman era, at least militarily. There were knights and they won battles, so most people did the sensible thing and hid in castles, of which there were many, until the knights came to the rescue. It is acknowledged, naturally, that there was a bit more to it than that but really, not much. Most campaigns, after all, got bogged down in sieges and sieges are, of course, very boring affairs. Even siege weaponry only developed slowly over the period and did not really establish superiority over the defence until the advent of gunpowder.

So how, out of this lack of information, could wargame rules possibly be written?

Well, to be honest, no period is easy for rule writers. There is a great deal to be considered, from ‘historical accuracy’ (whatever than means) to playability as a game. As I banged on about ad nauseum a while ago, a set of wargame rules is really a set of interlocking and interdependent models for different aspects of a battle. Nowhere in the accounts of battles I have read do participants say, ‘It is the end of the turn, we had better check our morale’. Morale is an explanatory construct made by historians and wargamers to explain certain outcomes.

The further back in time, the less we know about combat. For example, no-one really knows how battles in the Wars of the Roses took place. Ideas vary from dismounted knights exhausted under the weight of armour practically collapsing when someone taps them to the same men at arms doing handsprings while toting poleaxes. Spool history back another two centuries or so and you have further compounded our ignorance and conflicting accounts.

We have to make some sensible inferences and deductions. If our sources do not mention particularly the difference between crossbows and ordinary bows, then they do not appear in the rules. If some of the spearmen in the sources are armoured and some are not, then we can represent that but need to really consider whether they performed differently on the battlefield and, if they did, why. The answer is probably not coats of mail, but discipline – the word ‘mercenary’ did not have its negative connotations that accrued later but were more reliable troops who were expensive but could be paid off at the end of the campaign.

On the other hand, there is a limit to what you can do with a pointy stick. So perhaps the distinction is not between armoured and unarmoured spearmen, but between levies and mercenaries, the latter having a bit more sticking power, not because of their armour but because of their semi-professionalism.

The range of troop types is fairly straightforward in the Anglo-Norman period, of course: mounted knights, dismounted knights, spearmen and archers (conflating crossbowmen and archers into one). Complications arise because the knights could dismount to bolster the infantry, but that could be accounted for. Beyond that, a simple matrix style of interactions should result in something playable.

Morale would be an interesting question. I would usually go for the whole army approach, and still would, but perhaps losing knight bases would count for more than infantry, at least if we believe the chroniclers. But maybe that is just adding too much chrome.

Saturday 9 October 2021

You Are Now Entering Marlborough Country

I am, of course, showing my age, my childhood hearkening back to the days when cigarette advertising was permitted, and, indeed, propped up several sports. However, I have, as you might have noticed, finished the Anglo-Duch and the Bavarian War of Spanish Succession armies, and so the pondering has been what to do with them.

Now, obviously, the answer is ‘have a wargame’, but the question is then ‘yes, but which.’ I am not a particular expert on the WSS, although I have read a little about it (it was a long time ago – my reading, not the war which was even longer ago). In desperation, I hit Google and came up with a bit of a gem, two battles (on the Helion website) reduced to wargame-ness by Andy Callan. I know its advertising, but it is also free and you do not have to buy the books.

The first battle is storming the Schellenberg in 1704. Well, maybe sometime. The second caught my interest a bit more, the Battle of Elixheim, July 1705. Looking at the orders of battle, I realised that with a little jiggery-pokery I could make up the forces. I then resorted to my few textbooks to try to flesh out the detail of what happened, behind the wargame reduction.

The short answer is that I did not find much, the 1705 campaign being rather relegated to obscurity between the 1704 Blenheim and the 1706 Ramillies campaigns. Still this book:

Chandler, D. (1973). Marlborough as Military Commander. London: MBS.

Came up with the goods. The situation Marlborough was tackling was the French (etc) army on the defensive, behind the ‘Lines of Brabant’. This was a network of forts, waterways, flooding, barricades, and entrenchments. The lines were undermanned; indeed the idea was that they would delay anyone crossing them, rather than stop them. Marlborough feinted south, convincing the Elector of Bavaria and General Villeroi to concentrate in the south, but Marlborough marched north overnight and crossed the lines.

According to Chandler, the hastily gathered defenders consisted of 33 understrength Spanish (presumably Walloon) and Bavarian squadrons, 11 battalions of Bavarian foot and ten triple barrelled guns. Marlborough (for it was the man himself) had 16 squadrons of British cavalry, plus the Hessians and Hanoverians of the advance guard and some infantry, with more approaching.

A brisk attack by Marlborough's men routed the opposing cavalry, but some hesitation on Marlborough’s part (uncharacteristic – Chandler cannot explain the blip on his hero’s record) let the Bavarian foot form a rearguard as the rest of the French army scuttled across the River Gheete to safety near Louvain.

A brisk little action, then, with not a huge amount of meaning. But something possible with the forces at my disposal. Callan has a handy map which, if you chop the lines off the right-hand side and heed to the advice that it was good cavalry country is easily represented on the table. Callan has the Anglo-Dutch with 8 regiments of horse and 4 of foot, while the French have 5 regiments of horse, 5 of foot, 2 dragoons and two guns.

The picture gives an idea of the field. Woods on the far side, Esemale to the left with the Bavarian lines. To the right are the British and Hessian cavalry with Elixheim behind them. The Bavarian infantry enters from the left on move 3, the British and Hessian infantry enters from the table corner (just off camera) to the right, behind Elixheim.

I confess it all went a bit pear-shaped for the great man. The deployment, it turned out, was not of the best. There is a reason for having multiple lines of cavalry, even in my rules. Marlborough was held by inferior numbers of Bavarians in the centre, while the Bavarians got the drop on the Hessian cavalry on their right. After a couple of rounds of combat, the Hessians fled. On Marlborough’s right, the rest of the British cavalry could not come to grips with the Franco-Bavarian dragoons. Then, as the infantry arrived, Marlborough was forced to deploy the Hessians to deter the pursuing Bavarian cavalry (which they did very nicely) but then lost one base in the central cavalry swirl while routing one. The Bavarian infantry was starting to arrive by then.

Final positions are as above, just as Marlborough’s side went to ‘fall back’ morale. The Hessian horse have disappeared stage right, while their foot are preventing most of the Bavarian horse from rallying from pursuit (you cannot rally while under fire). The British foot are proceeding down the table. In the centre Marlborough is rallying his cavalry while a Bavarian cavalry base pursues some English across the table. To the left, the Bavarian foot have arrived.

I pondered what to do here. Marlborough has not technically lost, although 4 being cavalry bases down means his morale is fragile. Strategically he does not have to win the battle, because the Dutch army has crossed the lines behind him and is now camping a bit further north. While they have marched 27 miles overnight, they will still seriously outnumber the Bavarians, who can still form the rearguard from Villeroi’s retreat.

Cavalry actions under these rules are fast and furious. I had to make up a few rules, specifically about when pursuers come under fire and lost the ranged combat. A pursuing base got a ‘recoil’ result from the Hessian foot, and so I had to ponder what that would mean. I decided that the pursuit would stop but that the cavalry base would not start rallying because it was in combat. The result was that the Bavarian horse were pinned in disarray in front of the Hessian foot for a few turns, the latter taking potshots at them.

I also discovered that I need some more marker types, for pursuing bases that have not started rallying yet, but that is part of developing and understanding rules. I also need to learn that deploying cavalry in two or more lines might be an idea.