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.

Saturday 2 October 2021

The Lead Pile Revisited

Those of you with long memories and high boredom thresholds might remember a post last year revealing the size of my unpainted lead mountain. Having, as it were, sized up the problem and roughly added up the total for painting in the previous year (when no official records were kept), I challenged myself to paint 1000 of the figures over the next year.

The original numbers were that I had 2248 figures to paint in the mountain. Over the year that number got revised and distorted. Firstly, as the blog record shows, I also acquired a Vauban-style star fort, which was painted, and a Russian village, which has also been painted. Alongside the village, a Muscovite army was purchased, adding 179 figures to the pile. The star fort, or rather the companion besiegers pack, included some sappers as well, which increased the pile again, and I tracked down some gunners and guns, officers and snipers, and a few other bits. So the pile grew by about 200 in that process. I also found some Early Modern civilians and ECW generals. So the overall total grew to 2534 unpainted little men, consisting of 1880 infantry, 621 cavalry, and 33 others – guns and chariots, for example.

The aim of roughly halving the size of the lead pile had to be shelved, of course. But nevertheless, the challenge of 1000 figures remained. I gave a mid-term report, which gave a total of 589 figures painted, 171 cavalry, and 403 infantry, along with 15 guns. This included the new purchases, and so I could feel rather virtuous about the whole thing. Not smug, of course, for my painting is nowhere near good enough to feel smug about but virtuous in that the lead pile had not grown any more by random purchases, and had, in fact, shrunk a bit.

At that point, 15 wargames had taken place and had, in the main, been reported upon. Some of these used the newly painted troops, and some did not. To date, a further 7 wargames have been played, bringing the total to 22, which is quite pleasing, even though few of them have progressed any of the ongoing campaigns, but have either been one-offs or played because I was avoiding the higher stakes games of the campaigns. Sometimes my own psychology seems to be a bigger enemy than any lead pile or table-top foe.

The initial painting phase focussed heavily on the early moderns, although the wargames included ancients: Caesar’s late Republican Romans and the Celts got a couple of run-outs, as did Marathon. The first try of Marathon hinted at some further painting requirements for the Persians; they were very limited in terms of reinforcements, and even more so if Immortals were not included (they probably were not at Marathon, after all). So as Persians formed the greatest unpainted force in the ancients part of the pile, effort was concentrated on them and nearly 200 figures completed.

I suppose that I had better clarify the basing for these figures. I am a lazy painter, as all of you out there who spluttered ‘Only one thousand figures?’ will aver. For the Irregular figures, infantry are six to a base and cavalry are five. For Baccus figures, there are eight infantry and six cavalry to a base. This is except for the ECW and similar figures, where there are sixteen infantry (or twelve Irregular) to a base.

You might deduce from that that my view of basing in muddled, and you would be right. I quite like the aesthetic of two ranks of figures on a 40 by 20 mm base. On the other hand, if you work out the ratio of frontage to depth for a 500 man battalion you get a width of around 60 men for a depth of 8. Hence you get an aspect ratio of 7.5:1 or thereabouts. Thus it seems to me that a single line of 8 figures captures the aspect ratio of the formation a lot better than two lines of figures, for all the aesthetic appeal of the latter. Therefore I shall keep basing inconsistently.

Army              Inf     Cav     Guns         Total

Polish GNW      48     48                          96

Danish GNW      8                                     8

Officers / snipers 9                                      9

Sappers              12                                      12

Scots              144     18                              162

Muscovite      102     75         2                  179

Civilians (EM) 39                                          39

Gunners              33              13                      46

Irish ECW          96                                          96

Anglo-Dutch WSS 56         30                      86

Bavarian WSS        64         30                      94

Persian                  176         21                      197

Totals                  787         222     15          1024

The current totals are shown in the table. The WSS troops are now complete, although I have not figured out my WSS in an afternoon scenario yet. The Persians are the only ancients to have been painted, and await further opportunities for winning at Marathon, although Plataea has been suggested as a more winnable battle for them.

The Scots and Irish ECW figures are finally being painted for a plan, that plan being the Battle of Benburb in 1646. JWH of Heretical Gaming had a go with the Polemos: ECW rules a while ago, and I have now read Hayes-McCoy’s account of the action, and it seems feasible, if I paint up some of the outstanding Scottish horse, including some of them as Irish. Hayes-McCoy claims that some of the horse on both sides were lancers, but I have no idea why. Still, it should be possible to give it a go with only a modicum more painting.

As for the future, I suspect (although I have note performed the subtractions) that I am starting to run a bit thin on Early Modern figures, except three regiments of Irish foot. A return to the ancients seems to be on the cards, where the largest outstanding army is the Parthians with a fair shed-load of cavalry. As they are one of the un-doubled ancients armies, they seem to be top of the priority list. After them, the rest of the ancients are really dribs and drabs of left-overs from old projects.

Of course, other things may occur. In the back of my mind I have Anglo-Dutch War ideas, more ECW infantry figures (see the Braddock Down write up for why) and possibly Punic Wars. But I would like to get my lead pile below 1000 this next year, or even (whisper it who dare) under 500. The current outstanding pile is 1510, by the way. Who knows?