Saturday, 29 January 2022

Self-Inflicted Wounds

There is no doubt about it: if you want to kill off the readership of your blog (not literally, of course) the answer is to write about naval wargaming. The first post of this year about plans for the future got over forty views, although I do not know how many of those were Russian botnets or Indian exam answer mills. The second post, which was about a naval wargame in the Alexander’s Anabasis campaign got just over half that. It had a picture of a table with a blue cloth. It clearly puts people off.

I have mentioned before that this is very odd, particularly among Anglo-American wargamers, given the legacy of naval history both have. Most wargamers, it seems, like to keep their feet firmly on the ground. In spite of a few books in the heyday of wargame publishing, there seems to be relatively little uptake of naval wargaming, certainly as anything particularly mainstream.

Perhaps this is because naval wargaming is perceived as being complicated. Certainly I have seen some awfully complex naval wargame rules, some of which required a computer to play. These were mainly related to World War I, World War Two and fictitious (mercifully) recent Cold War actions, and I suppose the full gamut of modern naval fighting is very complicated, particularly with electronic countermeasures and so on. Incidentally I once nearly accepted a job part of which was to develop methods of hiding modern naval vessels. I often wonder what would have happened if I had; World War three possibly.

Still, my interest, wargame wise, is of course early modern and ancient wargaming and, as I think wargames should cover the whole of military activity, I am not going to stop writing about naval matters. As I threatened in the New Year post I have been pondering the Anglo-Dutch wars recently, and have even started to take some action in that direction. I have not quite decided what is going to happen, but it seems that something is in the air.

Anyway, with that in mind I have been reading:

Barry, Q. (2018). From Solebay to the Texel: The Third Anglo-Dutch War, 1672 - 1674. Warwick: Helion.


This work is part of Helion’s ‘Century of the Soldier’ series, which is extensive and, so far as I can tell, a bit patchy in quality, although on the whole useful and good. This is no exception – it is a good book.

The first two chapters are background, covering the first and second Anglo-Dutch Wars. Central to these conflicts was the commercial rivalry between the two nations. This is a bit interesting, as it shows that wars are often fought because of ideas. The idea here is mercantilism, the concept that there is a fixed amount of trade in the world and that each nation has to try to capture more from other countries, rather than the (more modern) idea that trade can expand endlessly.

Proximate causes of the first ADW was the refusal of the Dutch to remove Royalists from their land and the passing of the Navigation Act by Parliament in 1651. This was aimed directly at Dutch commerce, stating that imports into England could only be in ships of the nation of origin or English ships. The Dutch re-export trade was therefore threatened.

It is possible that the Anglo-Dutch Wars are rather unpopular in in wargame terms, or even in Anglophone historiography, because they were so nakedly related to money and trade. I suspect as well that Tony Bath’s comments about them in Setting Up a Wargame Campaign might have something to do with it. Without getting up to find the book, as I recall he suggests that the scope is rather cramped and opportunities for strategic manoeuvre limited. He also suggests that the chances of either side carrying out a successful amphibious operation was limited. These things are perhaps true, but not so true as to make the wars unwargamable.

Another factor in the relative unpopularity of the period is the fact that the wars were rather embarrassing to the British naval tradition of victory. Everyone, probably, has heard of the Dutch raid on the Medway, and none of the other actions seem to have been particularly decisive (except in the first war, but that was during the Commonwealth and therefore embarrassing for home political reasons rather than military ones). The British government had not really worked out how to create the infrastructure for naval operations, and the fleet was not wholly appropriate for them. Revictualling was a problem, as was the repair of battle and storm damage. Under Charles II money was a problem as well.

Land action did take place, of course, in the Third Anglo-Dutch War. This one was pushed by Charles II in alliance with the French under Louis XIV. The French invaded on land and contributed a naval squadron, under British overall command. The activities of the latter showed that perhaps Louis was not as committed as he might have been to the naval cause, and Charles had to drop out of the war when he ran out of money. Still, there are four battles described in the book, Solebay, two battles of Schooneveld and The Texel. While naval doctrine had been settled by the British in the first war, and then copied by the French and Dutch, the best description I can give of them is ‘chaotic’. It is one thing to order a fleet into line; it is quite another to keep it there.

This was probably a transitionary time in naval warfare., and therefore is possibly at least as interesting, if not more so, than Nelson and his colleagues. How best to handle a fleet was a bit moot at the time. The correct strategic employment of the ships was another. Barry concludes by observing that in spite of all the blood and treasure expended in home waters by both sides, the most damage was done by a small Dutch squadron in the West Indies and North America.

Still, I doubt if anyone is reading this post now, so I shall finish , but promise to return to unpopular naval matters. After all, whoever blogged for popularity?

Saturday, 22 January 2022

Don Pedro’s March

 ‘Sir, your illustrious predecessor would have done no less.’

‘True. But he did have to surrender to the English.’

‘But he fought like a tiger, my lord. It is your duty so to do. The Duke, who commanded your illustrious predecessor, set sail in joyful expectation of a miracle.’

‘And you expect me to take on the might of France with a few musketeers in hope of a similar miracle? There was one, but it was an English miracle!’

‘No sire, you are only to escort the siege train to Corbie, not defeat the whole French nation.’

‘Oh, very well. We will set out directly.’


Those of you who remember Don Pedro’s world-weary attitude to orders will recognize his grandson’s point of view. Still, orders are orders, and the Spanish must get their siege guns through to the French town of Corbie. This being a wargame, naturally the French are out to stop them arriving.

The terrain is above. The Spanish enter along the road at front left, while the French arrive on the road at top right. The Spanish siege train needs to exit the road at top left, the French aim is to stop it.

Originally, I planned this as a straight battle in fairly dense terrain between more or less evenly matched sides. The Spanish would deploy just to the right of the road and the French at the foot of the hill to the right. The more I thought about it the less I liked the idea, however, and a sort of encounter battle was the result. Both sides would enter in march order but are aware of the existence of the others.

After a few moves a drone’s eye view is above. The French have marched their infantry into the centre of the table and are starting to deploy. The French cavalry is blocking the road and threatening the Spanish foot in march column on the road. The foremost Spanish cavalry, after some consideration by the general, charged the French light horse covering the deployment and routed it (you can see it fleeing at the top of the picture). Don Pedro kept control of his men and checked their pursuit, turning them away from the oncoming French. You can see them rallying centre-right.

Meanwhile, Don Pedro himself is rushing back to his infantry to start deploying them. His dragoons have made it into the larger village and their fire is slightly disrupting the French cavalry. This was actually a bit important, as it meant that the French general had to expend more tempo points to get his horse moving.

A lot depended on the next tempo roll, and Don Pedro won it, and got to his infantry in time to order the foremost tercio to deploy. The French cavalry very sensibly refused to charge the newly deployed foot, despite the prolonged urgings of their general. This allowed Don Pedro to deploy more of his infantry against the onrushing French hordes and for his cavalry to complete rallying.

The result for the French was disastrous. Their general was tied up with the cavalry, while the Spanish cavalry were presented with the open flank of the main French infantry march column. The charge went home with the result of three bases immediately routed, plus another swept away (I was merciful, the whole green regiment of French foot could technically have gone). French morale slumped to ‘fall back’, so they did.

Next turn, another base of French musketeers routed to the last of the Spanish cavalry charge, and another base of French shot went under to Spanish musket fire, taking their supporting pike with them (albeit they were still in march column). Another French morale roll came up with ‘rout’, so they did.

The Spanish had won, in fact, they had not lost a single base while the French had lost a light horse, five shot and two pike bases. Some parts of the French force were still able to fight, admittedly, particularly the horse, which had only been under fire from the dragoons and the lead Spanish foot regiment, and the blue foot to the left of the picture. Even if a poor morale roll had not routed them, however, the battle was lost, and Don Pedro could bring his siege train successfully to Corbie.

So, what went wrong for the French? Mainly, their general (me), got tied up with attempting to charge the Spanish foot on the road, for about three turns. The French infantry march columns were left to their own devices and the main one left its flank exposed to Don Pedro’s reforming cavalry. I was very dubious about their initial charge, incidentally, but it put them in a powerful position for later in the game. Those two bases of cuirassiers destroyed half the French army.

The figures above are mainly Irregular, while the Spanish cavalry are Baccus cuirassiers, which I used as they are easy to distinguish on the table. The buildings are Leven and the trees are Irregular as well. The rules were my own Wars of the Counter-Reformation which are available from the link to the right. The armies were sixteen bases a side, four pike, eight shot, three cavalry and a light horse or dragoon base (French and Spanish respectively).


‘That seemed to go quite smoothly, sire.’

‘Did it? Battles are never easy or smooth. Grandad won his first battles, remember. But he lost the campaign.’

‘The siege guns can now smash the walls of Corbie, sire.’

‘That is what I was ordered to achieve. But if we do that, the French will respond with more troops and a bigger war. And the English might land an army to help them, and their navy might get in the way of supplies of wine from Spain, and the whole war could burgeon out of hand and be a disaster for the people of Europe.’

‘The war has been going for seventeen years, sire.’

‘More if you count the fighting with the Dutch ‘rebels’, yes. We’ve not achieved much, really, have we?’


Saturday, 15 January 2022

Corbie 1636

 As you might imagine since the end of the Armada Abbeys campaign recently, I have been vaguely looking for another pseudo-historical set of games which might be played. You may recall that the Armada Abbeys campaign was based around a portion of the Spanish Armada breaking away and landing near Whitby in Yorkshire, and an enjoyable sequence of battles was had from that conceit.

Thinking of something else has proved to be a little difficult, although I have managed to keep up with other wargames as well as a bit of painting. Still, something English Civil War-ish seemed to be the best bet, in part to inspire me to paint the infantry reinforcements that arrived at Christmas.

As I may have mentioned, the problem with ECW campaigns is that they seem to fall into two classes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with either; I am just not sure they suit my taste (which my regular reader might be aware is hardly mainstream). Either you go with a county, either a historical one (with a Speed map reproduction) or a fictitious one, whereby you can make up all the names and have fun. I seem to recall one out there in the blogosphere where most of the names seem to be taken from BBC Radio Four’s The Archers.  Good fun and quite amusing, but probably not for me. I have done the real county thing and got totally bogged down, as well.

The alternative seems to be the whole war, which again I have seen in the blogosphere, and it could be done. But, again, I have tried this and got totally bogged down. So these sorts of things just do not suit my wargaming ‘style’, whatever that might be.

Conundrum in mind, I received the January 2022 issue of History Today, where the cover page article was ‘Charles I’s affair with France’. “That should interest you”, the Estimable Mrs P remarked. And, as so often, she was right.

It is probably widely known that the overriding aim of Charles I’s foreign policy was the restoration of his nephew Charles I Louis of Palatine to the Electorate lost by his father, Frederick V in 1620 (the Winter King). This too was James I & VI’s foreign policy, and by the mid-1630’s the policy so far, which broadly favoured Spain, had not worked. Charles also had to deal with a court faction which demanded war with the Hapsburgs in favour of Europe’s Protestants, who had been rapidly losing ground since 1618.

The Spanish position in the Low Countries was propped up via the Spanish Road, as series of roads, bridges, and forts from northern Italy to the environs of Luxembourg. In the early 1630s the French had succeeded in cutting this route by annexing Lorraine. This put Charles in a key position – the only way the Spanish could reinforce the Low Countries was along the English Channel, which meant that Charles and his newly minted Ship Money fleet was now a major factor in the escalating war.

Having vaguely, but unsuccessfully courted Spain in the earlier 1630s, Charles now opened negotiations with France, offering to block the ‘English Road’ and Spanish reinforcements in return for the exchange of part of the Lower Palatine for Lorraine. This came to nothing, but Louis XIII and Richelieu were interested in the alliance, because they could ill afford Charles’ navy to be used against them in alliance with Spain. England and France had engaged in a naval arms race in the earlier 1630s and both could deploy powerful navies, but not against an alliance of foes.

In 1636 the French military position was poor. The Spanish had invaded and captured Corbie in Picardy and were threatening Paris. Many, many years ago I remember an article in Miniature Wargames titled ‘The Year of Corbie’. I think the Spanish aim was to invade Picardy, Lorraine and also in the southwest of France, or possibly from Savoy. Coordination of Seventeenth Century strategy being what it was it promised more than it offered. Nevertheless, the memory triggered in idea for a semi-ECW based wargame or, hopefully, campaign.

The French in reality prevaricated, and Charles made a series of placatory and hostile gestures, hoping that the French would agree. The sticking point was that Charles would not agree to send land forces to fight on the Continent. I suspect that this was probably because Charles could not afford it, but I am not sure.

By 1639 the French military position was much better, and Charles’ domestic position was a lot worse. Charles was still interested in the alliance, but the strategic situation was revolutionised by the Battle of the Downs. This was deeply embarrassing for Charles, as the Dutch and Spanish had fought in English waters under the eyes of part of the English fleet (the rest was in Scottish waters after the first Bishop’s War).

The destruction of the Spanish fleet meant that the only way the Low Countries could be reinforced from Spain was via England itself. The Spanish had been reluctant to talk to Charles before because Maximillian of Bavaria, who was propping the Hapsburgs up in Europe, wanted to hang on to the Palatine. The Spanish position was desperate, however. They needed to land troops in the West Country and march them to Dover where they could slip across to Belgium. Charles, of course, needed money.

This rapprochement meant the end of the projected French alliance and the rejection of the anti-Hapsburg, anti-Catholic faction at court. The Leicester – Northumberland circle at Charles’ court could feel rejected, especially as Charles’ domestic policies could and were construed as pro-Catholic, even to the point of Charles and Laud being accused of re-catholicising the country by stealth. When the Short Parliament met, they supported the Pembroke – Pym faction in both Commons and Lords and the rest is history, or civil war, at least.

After that preamble, let me rewind to 1636. The first action to take place seems to have been the Spanish siege of Corbie, which, if I recall correctly, caused panic in Paris when it fell…


Saturday, 8 January 2022

The MomQuest

‘Mummy is on the beach over there’

‘Yes, sire.’

‘I have to get to her.’

‘Yes sire. We think your best plan is to get onto this little boat and slip through to her, while we distract the enemy.’

‘But I should arrive in style.’

‘Yes, sire. But it is better to arrive than not.’

‘You think that is a possibility if I stay on board this ship?’

‘Merchant ships are inherently vulnerable, sire.’

‘And a trireme?’

‘They will be in the thick of the action. Certainly, if you wish to be a hero, leading the triremes is your best idea. But if you wish to make it to that beach, slipping around the flank is best.’

‘Oh. Penteconter it is.’


Alexander IV, Alexander III’s son (aka ‘the great’, or ‘the mad’) has been partying on Ibiza for quite a long time. It is clearly an opportunity to get him moving again when I noted that my supply of pictures of my ancient galley fleets was limited (to the point of not having any). Roxanne, his mother, had tried and failed to send him reinforcements while he was on the Balearic Islands, so Alex had to make the next move. Scraping together a fleet of merchant ships, triremes and penteconters, he set sail for Italy, where Roxanne had based herself.

Clearly, the Graeco-Italian cities are not going to be impressed by the advent of Alexander’s son in their midst. Such people cause problems. Therefore, they have moved a small fleet to prevent Alexander from being reunited with his mother. As Alexander’s fleet approach the rendezvous, they spy the Greeks and clearly there is going to be a fight.

The initial dispositions are above. Alex’s fleet appears in the top left corner of the table, and its objective is the bay at bottom right. The Greek fleet consists of five triremes lurking among the rocks on this side, another five on the far side, and a screen of penteconters up front. Alex’s fleet consists of five penteconters, five merchant ships, five triremes and an extra penteconter bearing the great man himself.

After a few moves the plans can be seen. The Greek penteconters are moving to block the flanking ships – Alex’s penteconters to starboard and Alex’s ship itself which you can see slipping out from behind his triremes. Meanwhile the Greek triremes are moving forward to block the merchant ships and Alex’s triremes.

The situation proceeded to get complicated. The Greek penteconters are about to assault their Macedonian counterparts. Three taking on Alex’s light ships which have just deployed into line, while two are aiming for Alex’s own ship. The Greek triremes are just starting to appear at the top of the picture.

Disaster struck Alexander when his own ship was rammed and sunk. A dice roll was decided upon, whereby the lad took to a boat on a roll of one and drowned unheroically on a six. A one was rolled and a ships boat duly appeared alongside the wreck, protected by a trireme detached from the main force.

Meanwhile, to port, the Greek penteconters have attacked and largely been sunk themselves. Things proceeded to get more complicated as the detached trireme sunk the penteconter that had done for Alexander’s ship, while the damp one transferred to a merchant ship.

Alexander’s triremes have turned to starboard to protect the hero while the penteconters regroup. The Greek triremes are starting to loom a little disconcertingly as the Macedonian main lines are now outnumbered.

In the picture above, Alexander is now on the merchant ship sailing to starboard, while the merchant ships have turned away from the Greeks to cover him. The Macedonian triremes are maneuvering to a similar end and are going to have to try to fight superior numbers. Meanwhile, Alex’s penteconters have got moving again, and the remaining Greek penteconter has rammed and sunk the detached Macedonian trireme. I did say it got complicated.

The final positions are above. The port-most Greek trireme squadron has turned to move through the rocks to block the merchant fleet. The other Greek triremes and Alex’s triremes have clashed in the center, but Alex’s penteconters have assaulted the Greeks from behind and most of them are sunk. Alex’s merchantmen are turning away from the triremes, encircling the man himself.

At this point the Greeks gave up, having lost nine out of fifteen ships to Alexander’s single loss. Alexander has finally won another battle.

The ships, incidentally, are Outpost Wargame Service’s 1:3600 ancient models, and very useful they are too. They do permit the wargamer to deploy lots of ships, which space usually precludes with larger scales. The rocks are from Leven. The rules are my own ‘Are You Sure They Should Be Black?’, available from the Rules link to the right. The quinquereme, incidentally, is the tempo marker and not a sneaky extra ship lurking on the table.


The hero stood on the prow of the ship, his cloak flapping wetly in the wind. The scene was only diminished in its heroism slightly by his red legs where the soggy cloth had whipped against his flesh. The men bent their backs to their oars as the ship sped for the shore.

Alexander pictured the scene future painters and sculptors would reproduce for millennia. The boy hero arriving in triumph to greet his mother waiting for him on the beach. He hoped she had a fire going.

Eventually, the keel of the boat scraped on the sand and juddered to a halt. After recovering his balance Alexander waved both arms are the group of figures on the shore.

‘Mummy!’ he cried.

One of the beach party waved back. No-one seemed to be about to help him, so Alexander jumped into the surf and paddled ashore.

‘Mummy’ he cried again. There was no point in wasting the heroic line, after all.

‘Hello Alex, dear. Good to see you. Glad you made it, this time. Good job you won the battle, I can’t keep recruiting soldiers and ships or you all the time. You need to be a winner, like daddy was.’

Saturday, 1 January 2022

That Janus Feeling

 The world turns ever onwards, even when it feels like progress is, shall we say, mostly crab like. At this time of year (especially) we like to review the past and make plans. A wargame blog is, surprisingly to some perhaps, part of society and so is no different from other parts of society. So here goes.

The review of the last year is fairly straightforward. I have managed to reduce the lead pile by around a thousand figures. Specifically, I started my painting year in 2020 with over 2500 figures in the unpainted lead pile, and finished it with just over 1500. The painting was mostly odds and ends of early modern armies, such as ECW Scots and Irish, WSS Anglo-Dutch and Bavarian, Polish GNW, Russians from around 1600 and a Russian village and a star fort, with associated guns, gunners and some sappers.

By my reckoning 28 wargames were played, something of an annual record for me, I think. These ranged from several goes at the Marathon (the ancients painting was Persian reinforcements, but they still cannot seem to win) through Caesar’s first invasion of Britain (three games) to a Russian civil war (no, not that one, the wars of the two (or more) Dimitris), a Moghul civil war, some one off ECW battles (St Ouen’s Beach, Braddock Down and Benburb) and, perhaps most spectacular, the whole of the Great Northern War fought in a couple of afternoons. The Poles, incidentally, won.

Rule-wise I have developed the Polemos based Ancients and Wars of the Counter Reformation a bit, mostly for my own clarification. They are available from the rules link on the right. I have also written a scrappy set of early modern siege rules, which seemed quite fun and am working on some generic terrain rules. They are not available yet, because I have not got around to PDF-ing them. Still, they do exist.

Campaign-wise, the Armada Abbeys campaign wound up with the eventual defeat of Don Pedro’s army in the North Yorkshire Moors. There is only the Irish leg of this one to continue. In other campaigns, Infanta Isabella’s forces are maintaining their stranglehold on Bergen. We will have to see what the new campaigning season brings there. Ferdinand has lost most of his heavy cavalry and is biding his time while he considers what to do to be a hero and persuade the queen to grant him some more indulgences. The Aztec campaign, by the way, moved forward another two years with no battles. My luck changed and I am not quite powerful in Central Mexico.

In books I read quite a lot regarding Anglo-Norman warfare, which is not really a period I intend to get into wargaming, but was interesting nevertheless. As with most periods, I suppose, what really happened was rather different from what we think happened and also mostly, we have no idea as to what really happened. Anyway, it was good, interesting stuff. Other than that I have been slowly gravitating back to the English Civil War, aided and abetted by the Estimable Mrs P who has proved to be an adept purchaser or books on said topic: both Providence Lost  and The Making of Oliver Cromwell were gift to me, and very interesting they were too.

So, what of the future?

Well, I have managed to add 288 figures to my unpainted lead pile. These are Baccus ECW foot and will be reinforcements for that period, as I kept running out of pikemen, which is a bit irritating. I also have some more Scottish horse in the pipeline. Aside from them, the focus will be on painting some of the odds and ends of the ancients period I have. When I got them, I was developing the Polemos: SPQR rules, and needed to get 20 base core armies onto the table. Niceties like skirmishers for each army were left by the wayside, and now it is time, I think, to do some atonement and paint some more, particularly as Caesar could really do with some for his next attempt on Britain. A major effort will be needed to add to the Parthian army as well.

For the campaigns, I am pondering something ECW based, but I am not sure what yet. The classic ECW campaign suggestion is to campaign within a single county, but that is a bit limiting (I have done it several times) and you tend to either run into logistical problems (that is, not having any) or simply run out of soldiers. The other option is to try to do the whole war. I do have a couple of boardgames which might be suitable, of I might just narrative campaign it.

I also have hankerings to return to the Sarmatian Nation campaign. The Romans went down a bit easily to the Dacians at the last outing; the Romans were unfortunate, shall we say. There is also the question of the dispute between different Sarmatian tribes to be resolved. I might also try to revive Alexander IV’s fortunes in Italy, after he got thoroughly beaten in Africa and in the seas of Majorca. We shall see.

I the longer term, plans are afoot for something in the region of the Anglo-Dutch Wars. I am still pondering this and steeling myself to paint some ships, which I am not very good at. You might object that these wars were all naval affairs, and you would be right, but there is no reason why a certain amount of land campaigning could not be introduced. There were, after all, various invasion panics during them.

In the even longer term (i.e. not even considered for 2022) is Hannibal and the Punic Wars. In my ancients collection I have some suitable figures (Moors and Spanish, mainly) but I would need Romans and the core Carthaginians, as well as naval forces for both sides. The latter would be the tiny ships I l ready use for the Greeks. At least painting them is not too painful.

So, there you are, a look back at the wargame year, and a look forward. None of the above may happen; expect the unexpected…

And a happy new year to you all.