Saturday 30 April 2022

To the Hills!


‘Jaz, that’s us you’re shouting at.’

‘We are. Why are we running away from those heretics.’

‘Um, probably because there are a lot more of them than us.’

‘With the help of my God I can leap over a wall!’

‘Right. Right. Can you leap over squadrons of knights who are all out to kill you?’

‘My Lord is my strength and my shield.’

‘Good. Now, we can do the strength and shield thing from the heights over there. Plus we can roll things down on the, um, heretic knights and throw things at them. From our advantage.’

‘With the Lord on our side we need not the advantage.’

‘Well, lets not tempt the Lord too much, hey? I mean, he might have put that hill there just for us, you know?’


It became evident that a wargame was becoming necessary. The Estimable Mrs P can observe that the painting mojo is slowly diminishing, and I have enough experience in wargaming life to know that the way to cure that is to have a wargame, which is, after all, the reason I do the painting after all.

So I stuck a few more sails on the Anglo-Dutch wars ship and left them to dry, while I consulted Mr Thomas’ book for a scenario. I mused that I had not had the Hussites out for a while. As the regular reader of the blog will be aware, I like the Hussites. They are such a different experience of an army. They also give me the opportunity to make complex theological jokes which will, no doubt, pass the loyal reader by, theology not being a medium which lends itself easily to jokes, although a few brave souls do attempt humour in the subject.

Anyway, a quick search turned up a range of Hussite battles. While they won most of the early actions, largely due to the ‘heretic knights’ not really believing that the peasants would do them in, the later actions were a lot more difficult. This is partly because the Hussites split into factions, like any decent victorious revolutionary organisation. It is also partly because of the strategic situation – the Hussite started raiding the surrounding lands and, as with most raiding expeditions, found themselves either pursued or blocked off from returning home by an irate army.

Bearing that in mind I perused One Hour Wargames and came up with the scenario whereby one army has to cross a river a seize a hill to resist their pursuers, who outnumber them, from. This seemed to be tailor made for a Hussite raiding party.

The starting positions from my interpretation of the scenario are below.

The Hussite aim is to cross the river and set up defensive positions on the hill on the far side. The Imperialists arrive on turn two and their aim is to capture the hill. The Hussites have 12 bases, the Imperialists 16. The rules are my own (from the link on the right, if you are interested), and the figures are mostly Irregular, although I think the Imperialist crossbowmen are Heroics and Ros.

There were some critical incidents in the battle, and it was rather close. The Hussite general was deployed with their light horse which got charged by two bases of German knights. That was the end of the general and the mounted crossbowmen, and I thought the Hussites were toast too. However, given it was the Hussites and they had clear orders, they continued with the plan, just a bit less flexibly. The charge of the knights probably assisted them, as it delayed the pursuit for the Hussite left hand column.

Mid game is shown above. The rearguard for the Hussite right hand column is under intense pressure, and the Hussite knights are about to be routed. However, the German knights will charge off in pursuit, and a base of Hussite flailmen will then seal off the bridge and defy the German spears. On the left the Hussite flailmen are successfully defying the German knights, having recoiled one base, the other refused to charge.

The situation continued. The German knights on the right got hit quite hard by fire from the Hussite warwagons and failed to rally, while eventually the German spearmen on the bridge managed to force back the Hussites sufficiently to start to deploy.

By then it was too late, the warwagons were deploying on the crest of the hill. The Hussites had reached safety. With the heavy fire the warwagons can put down, plus the advantage of the slope, it is unlikely that the Imperialists will get much further.

The Hussites were not unscathed, of course, having lost two bases and the general, while the rearguard base might struggle to regain the wagon lines.

The result seems to be fairly historical. The Hussites usually seem to have got away, but with quite heavy casualties. The problem with war wagons is that they are excellent in defence, but much harder to use in attack. That seems to be reasonable. For the Imperialists, the knights are very powerful but not unconquerable. The infantry rarely seems to get a look in.

I admit to some rule mistakes here. The Imperial cavalry hit the Hussites at the bridge at full force; they should have been shaken by the terrain. Similarly both sides crossed the ford and bridge with no disruption. On the other hand, the Germans formed into column for passing the river without penalty. I am still not sure if I treated the leaderless Hussites properly, either. They did have clear orders and I stuck to them. The counterattack at the bridge was very limited and local, so it seemed reasonable (and the Hussites had the tempo for it). Lots to ponder.


‘Phew, we made it, Jaz.’

‘We soared on the wings of eagles.’

‘It was a tough pull up that slope, I can tell you.’

‘Our Lord is a mighty fortress, our rock on whom we stand firm.’

‘I think we’re safe now...’

Saturday 23 April 2022

A Long, Long Time Ago…

 … I can still remember the way the music used to play….

Well, a long time ago I can remember finding Don Featherstone’s Solo Wargaming book, and the validation it gave to me as a, well, solo wargamer. I was but a lad at the time, maybe thirteen or fourteen and I had discovered the wargaming section of my local public library. However, none of my friends were interested in wargaming, and there was no club in the town I lived in. Most of the books assumed a live opponent, and the occasional copies of Battle magazine and Military Modelling I saw had a similar tone.

Thus Don’s solo tome spoke to me in volumes. I was a wargamer even though I had no opponent. My wargames were as valid as anyone else’s. I was not a sad and lonely oddity (as I said, I did have friends, they just were not interested in wargaming) and my wargaming was just as good as the next teenager’s. I must have read it several times before it was due to be returned to the library, and I borrowed it several times more, I am sure.

The book was crammed full of ideas. I suppose on reflection it was not particularly systematically done (why should it be?) but I remember writing out chance cards, and drawing up tactical cards, and, mostly, daydreaming about battles and campaigns for which I had no resources of either time or money. The enthusiasm of the work was clear; perhaps that was the key point for me then.

Fast forward (mumble) years and, as I noted a few weeks ago Henry Hyde’s Wargaming Compendium is, in some senses, mostly the enthusiasm bit, similar. It also makes an attempt (almost certainly doomed, of course) to be comprehensive. It is not a book about solo wargaming, and so there is no reason why it should be brim full of ideas for that activity, although it does have some. Ideas for how to play a solo wargame, mostly by automating one side, are there, and the enthusiasm runs through the pages.

Many wargamers, I suspect, are solo some of the time. Perhaps, like me, they have just got used to it and never sought a club. Perhaps they have lost their normal opponent though moving. Perhaps they just cannot get sufficient wargaming and launch forth solo as well as face-to-face. There are probably as many reasons for solo wargaming as there are solo wargamers.

The thing I find I need most as a solo wargamer is ideas. This is, of course, where the books come in. I can remember reading in fascination Charles Grant’s Table Top Teasers – one month the scenario was described, the next a description of the game was published. I even managed to try a few of them out myself. But there were never enough; my wargame sessions were weekly.

Still, it did set me thinking: if I were to write a book on solo wargaming what would be in it? What sorts of things would I like to see? Now, to be honest, there is an outside chance of me writing such a tome, but at the moment it is just a thought.

This blog, of course, has outlined a fair bit of my approaches to solo wargaming, but without really nailing things down too much. I like flexibility – rules are a matter of taste. Some people prefer everything to be a bit more free-flowing, others like everything to be nailed down. As a solo wargamer you can try to do both. One of the lessons of that is that you cannot write a rule for everything.

Anyway, what would I like to see?

Firstly, I would like a consideration of the different ways of running the sides in a battle or campaign. That is, do I divide myself as the general, or do I attempt to automate the opponent? Allied to this are considerations of ‘fairness’, that is not making your (implied) opponent a walk-over if you automate them, but on the other hand you do need a chance of winning. For the divided self as two generals there is the problme of too much knowledge, of course.

I think a section on battles and scenarios would be good. There are a number of different levels here, from the historical re-fight to entirely fictitious actions, via historical and semi-historical match ups. There are also questions of the scale of the wargame, from role playing through skirmishes to battles small and large.

Many of the solo wargame publications suggest campaigns are the way to sustain the solo wargamer’s interest, and they are probably right. The problem here is, firstly, that for the general in a scenario – knowing too much – and secondly that map based campaigns have a nasty tendency to get utterly bogged down in details. Hence, over the years, I have developed the ‘narrative’ campaign, which is achieved using the armies I have, a map and some imagination. There are limitations, of course. Attrition is one of them.

Moving on, I think some bits on idea generation would be good. Again, reading books, blogs, magazines and so on are a start. The Armada Abbeys campaign started by rereading Geoffrey Parker’s chapter on ‘what if the Armada had landed’ and a couple of books on the Elizabethan military. But there would be a lot more to it, and I think one under-exploited idea is taking a historical situation, such as the ECW siege of York, and re-working it in a different period. My vague idea here is Susa in Alexander’s invasion of the Persian Empire.

One of the things you can do (I try to) as a solo wargamer is aim at some sort of completeness. Included in this are ideas of naval and air operations, which are always related to land warfare, possibly logistics (although that tends to land up in accountancy) and siege operations. In a campaign these sorts of things are essential to reproducing in some form what was going on.

I have not managed to squeeze into this post other ideas – randomization, chance cards, campaign events, personalisation and so on, nor a consideration of which period to play in, or science fiction or fantasy games.

I only allow myself so many words in one of these posts, and I am already over that, but over to you, my loyal reader. What would you like in a book on solo wargaming?

Saturday 16 April 2022

Hannibal’s Oath

It is a well know story, of course: Hannibal Barca, leader of Carthage, stormed across the Alps and into Italy, sweeping all before him with a series of stunning victories and bringing the fledgling Roman state to its knees. The slow recovery of the Romans and their eventual victory over Hannibal is, perhaps, one of the greatest comeback stories of the ancient world, possibly of all history.

As you might imagine, I have been reading again:

Prevas, J. (2017). Hannibal’s Oath: The Life and Wars of Rome’s Greatest Enemy. Da Capo.

This is not an academic text, but really a history of Hannibal’s adventures from the beginning as the son of Hamilcar Barca, who thought that with a bit more support he might have won, or at least drawn, the First Punic War, to Hannibal’s suicide just before being taken by the Romans in Bithynia.

While at the more popular level, the book is not devoid of analysis. I think that books aimed at the more popular level are, in general, improving a bit in their ability both to reference the source material and provide a bit of ‘well, this is what the sources say but they might be wrong, biased or simply making things up to be a good story.’ This sort of issue is particularly acute with sources from the ancient world, of course.

That is not to underplay Hannibal’s achievements, of course. He did lead an army over the Alps and run rampant in Italy for a few years. If things had turned out slightly differently – if reinforcements had got through to him (and they nearly did) – then Rome might well have been reduced from nascent superpower to another city state in the middle of Italy. World history might have looked a little different.

While to book focusses on Hannibal, of course, the sources are Roman and so a fair bit of Roman reaction enters the sources. The early commanders against Hannibal in Italy mostly come across as overconfident and incompetent. It was only when the Roman strategy shifted from avoiding direct contact with Hannibal and his army, and undermining his strategy elsewhere that things began to turn.

For example, Hannibal’s hope was to get Italian and Italian-Greek cities onto his side. This sort of worked, but of course they needed protection and for Hannibal to continue to be seen as a winner. However, he did not have the resources to lay siege to anywhere, really, and certainly not Rome. Whether he could have successfully moved on Rome in the panic after Cannae is a moot question, of course. It is possible that given reasonable terms the Romans, or at least some of them, would have favoured surrender. Whether such terms would have been offered, and whether a faction of the Senate would have held out anyway, reasoning that Hannibal could not besiege the city, we will never know.

The ensuing long war in Italy was rather devoid of battles – the Romans learnt to avoid them and to shadow Hannibal while preventing their own allies from defecting. The rest of the war was fought out in Spain, where eventually the Carthaginians were defeated. This left North Africa vulnerable, of course, and so Hannibal and the remnants of his army were summoned to Carthage to defend the city.

The result, as any wargamer will know, was Zama and the clash between Scipio Africanus and Hannibal himself. As Prevas notes, however, Hannibal’s army was not the one he crossed the Alps with, while Scipio’s was much more experienced and had come from a string of victories in Spain. No wonder Hannibal negotiated before accepting battle.

One of the interesting things, which I did not know (I have not read much about the (Punic Wars) was that Hannibal’s third line included a Macedonian phalanx. I am not sure I was aware of that before. Sabin, in Lost Battles refers to ‘Livy’s propagandist tale’ of their being Macedonians present, and that it is almost universally disbelieved. It does go to show the risks of believing the sources too much, although I am not exactly sure why Livy should have included Macedonians for propaganda, although it would have justified the next Roman war against the Greeks.

With the defeat at Zama, Hannibal eventually fled east and tried his hand at being a military advisor with various potentates against Rome. These did not work out too well, as the Romans had the organisation and manpower to overcome pretty well any foe of the time. Eventually, Roman threats (thinly disguised as diplomacy) tracked Hannibal down.

An interesting book about a period about which I know relatively little. I do recall Terry Wise’s Introduction to Battle Gaming (I think it was) had a refight of Zama in its pages, part of the interest of which was spotting the Airfix figures used in the photographs – I recall the North American Indian mounted chief being one of them, as a Numidian light cavalryman.

I confess, I do not feel too attracted to the Punic Wars as a period, and I am not all that sure why. The battles in which Hannibal participated are not without interest, although they did tend to be a bit one-sided. The battles in Spain are probably the more interesting, while Zama, as noted, was probably a victory for quality. I am sure there are decent wargames to be had, but they do not feel ‘right’ for me.

It is odd how the choice of period works, or maybe it is just that I do not want to paint another load of Romans and various random bits which constituted Carthage’s armies of the time. Mind you, I do already have armies of Moors and Numidians and Spanish, so that might not be too bad. The Romans would be a bit more of a challenge.

Overall a decent book, then, especially if read with care. Prevas does not entirely subscribe to the ‘Hannibal was a genius’ school, and that, in my view, is a jolly good thing.

Saturday 9 April 2022

The Anglo-Dutch Naval Wars

 It is the case that the painting of the Anglo-Dutch Wars ships is a bit stalled – fixing the sails has been a great deal more challenging than I expected, although I seem to have got four models ready for undercoating. Only another eight to go.

Still, stalled (or, perhaps, that should be becalmed) painting does not stop me reading stuff, and the latest tome is one that has been on my shelf for some years, which does seem to show the positive advantages of being interested in the same periods of history over more than twenty years.

The book in question is this:

Hainsworth, R., and C. Churches. The Anglo-Dutch Naval Wars 1652 - 1674. Stroud: Sutton, 1998.

As the title implies this is an overview of the entire naval warfare between the English and Dutch navies from the Commonwealth to the semi-fiasco of the third war. As a slightly older book, of course, it does not benefit from colour pictures except on the cover, but it does make up for that by having a plethora of black and white images throughout.

Nearly half of the book is based around the first war, 1652-4. It is, I think, probably the most interesting for a variety of reasons, but it also is the one which the English really won, which might add to its interest in Anglophone nations and among those with a Whig view of history and the inexorable rise of the British Empire. Wargamers, I am sure, would never fall into either of those traps.

Still, as the book observes, there was a rather halting start to the war by the English. The Dutch were a great deal more experienced in naval warfare and command, as well as seamanship. On the other hand, the English had most of the strategic advantages. A Dutch politician observed that the English would be attacking a mountain of gold while the Dutch had a mountain of iron to attack. Most of the Dutch trade routes necessarily pass within naval strike range of English ports and anchorages.   

Leadership was another issue. The English admirals were generals, unused to handling naval vessels, unfamiliar with naval strategy and tactics. They were, however, brave, used to winning, and could learn from experience. Hence, it would appear that after the first few encounters, the fighting instructions were issued which included the directive to fight in line, rather than in groups.

This was largely a result of the different vessels that the English and Dutch used. While both resorted to armed merchantmen, the English ships were more heavily gunned and fought to batter Dutch vessels with cannonry to the hulls. The Dutch, being lighter and shallower drafted could not carry the same weight of cannon, and therefore shot to disable the masts and rigging of the English ships, close and board them, or destroy them with fireships.

To anyone who has even a passing interest in later naval warfare of the Nelson era, this probably sound familiar. The British and French navies of that era had the same sort of tactics. Even so, it was a bit difficult for the tactics to be pure: the Dutch had to shoot and the English, in order to actually win anything, had to get close up. The main difference across the hundred years or so between the Anglo-Dutch and Anglo-French wars was in the number of ships involved in a battle (which decreased) and the size of vessel involved, which increased. Hence by the mid-Eighteenth Century the line of battle did not usually involve anything less than a 74-gun ship, while in the 1650s 36-gun ships were perfectly adequate ships of the line.

The second and third wars were, relatively speaking, humiliations for the English. The Dutch ‘raid’ on the Medway was a disaster and much of the blame for that could be laid at the feet of Charles II, at least according to Hainsworth and Churches. Mind you, the earlier battles of Lowestoft and the Four Days Fight were hardly triumphs of English naval intelligence and command. Dutch naval command was consistently good, although many of the captains on both sides (more often reported by the Dutch, at least) failed to second the admirals and had a tendency to hide at the back of the formations and not engage (and, occasionally, shoot through their leaders….).

During the second war the Dutch built heavier gunned ships, even though some of their anchorages and ports might be denied to the deeper draft vessels. The alternative, of wider shallow draft vessels to carry bigger guns, was ruled out because the ships would have been slower. By the third war the difference in gunnery was much narrower, although the strategic position was very different.

The Third Anglo-Dutch naval war was really the project of Charles II in cahoots with Louis XIV to eliminate the Dutch. At sea, all the Dutch really needed to do was retain a fleet in being. Any projected naval landing of an army would be impossible if the Dutch fleet remained in the offing. As such the actions of the war were, from a tactical view, fairly inconclusive, although the French naval squadron’s behaviour was, at time, amounting to the treacherous, albeit with a degree of plausible deniability. As the authors point out, there was little that Rupert and his admirals could do to defeat the Dutch navy so long as they remained in the shallows and shoals off the Dutch coast. Getting at them was difficult, defeating them almost impossible.

An upshot of the Third War was the growing public distrust of the French and the Stuart monarchy. This was to have important consequences in the medium and longer terms, of course. Fourteen years after the end of the Third Anglo-Dutch War a Dutch naval fleet landed a Dutch army at Torbay while the English fleet and British army looked on. The die was cast for over a century of warfare between the British and French polities.  

Saturday 2 April 2022

Seven Mile House

 ‘So, the treaty is signed and being run from Paris to London via Calais?’

‘Yes, sire. The ambassador is on the move as well. They will pass through Arras soon.’

‘We need to intercept them somewhere along that route.’

‘Yes, sire. But the route is largely unknown to us. We could do to scout it out.’

‘Take some men and do so.’


Well now, a change of pace is on the cards. I recently rediscovered my stock of 25 (plus) mm English Civil soldiers, including, rather to my surprise, a dozen which had been painted to an acceptable standard. I suppose a caveat is relevant here: there are several dozen which are not.

Still, a bit of basing (along with some chariots and the mysterious blot shooters from a post of two ago) and they were ready for action. I have been playing with 6mm toys for many years. The biggars came as a bit of a shock.

The basic idea of the game was two-fold. Firstly, to see if I could sketch out some acceptable skirmish rules in a few minutes without getting bogged down in detail. With a bit of cribbing from Mr Berry’s Once Upon a Time in the West Country that was accomplished without too much pain and suffering.

The second aim was to move the Corbie campaign along a bit. As I mentioned, after Corbie fell in real life, the French and English negotiated over a treaty against the Spanish, which nearly, but not quite, happened. There was a draft treaty but by the time the details were hammered out the French military situation had stabilised in the north-east and they no-longer felt they needed it.

The conceit here is that Louis XIII and Richelieu signed the treaty and entrusted it to a group of ambassadors and their guards to get to London. The Spanish, having recently taken Corbie, would naturally like to stop the copy of the treaty getting through. The first opportunity is by cutting the Arras to Calais road.

The next conceit is that the English government, under Charles I, desperately wants to treaty to be enforced, for domestic political reasons. Essentially, by signing an anti-Spanish treaty Charles would get a lot of Puritan opinion off his back (and probably prevent the civil war). Thus the first skirmish action is between the group of Spanish scouts and two parties of English who are attempting to keep the road along which the treaty and ambassador must travel open.

The terrain was very simple – I do not have much big stuff. The roads runs north to south, along which the English pass, one group of three from each end. The other road comes from the east and the Spanish appear from them. The aim of the English is to clear the road, of the Spanish to hold the house to cut it.

I had to do a bit of experimenting with the camera to get any pictures at all. Finally, I hit on macro mode with the flash off and the camera on its tripod. The Spanish arrived four moves before the first parts of English and just about got to the house first.


So far as I recall there are a couple of Redoubt dismounted ECW cavalry above, and the rest of Landsknechts from an unknown manufacturer, probably Foundry before they went to packs of eight. The English, when they appear, are, I think, Outpost Border Reivers, but they do not seem to sell that range any more, which is a pity. The house is from the Usbourne Medieval Town, in 20 mm but it looks about right.

Anyway, the Spanish with muskets dismounted and took aim at the first party of English trotting down the road towards them. The small rectangular markers indicate who is mounted, by the way, because I was too much of a cheapskate to buy mounted duplicates (and still am, some things don’t change). The mounted Spanish pistolier also took aim and, by a miracle of rolling they managed three hits between them on the lead English rider. He also fell off his horse and so was rendered seriously hors-de-combat in a moment.

This left the dismounted Spanish unloaded, of course, and so they were charged by one of the remaining English horsemen, while the other took on the pistoleer. Remarkably, the foot managed to beat back their foe, although one of them was wounded, and another mounted Spaniard took over the combat, allowing the unwounded musketeer to start reloading.

The combat between the third Englishman and the pistoleer was interrupted by another Spanish cavalryman who attacked from the flank. Meanwhile the remaining English, the party from the south, had appeared and were cautiously circling the house, aiming to cut the Spanish line of retreat.

The unequal fight at the junction could not last much more and eventually the brave Englishman was downed. The southern English party had deployed into line looking for the chance to charge and sweep away the Spanish blocking the road, but the mounted Spanish formed up into a similar formation and, after the discharge of a crossbow (which missed) the English decided that retreat was the best option. The remaining member of the northern party broke off from his combat and joined them in the retreat.

The strange colours in the photographs are due to differing light conditions (that’s my excuse, anyway), but a good time was had by all. Now the French have the problem of clearing the road to Calais for the ambassador and the signed treaty, and I have the problem of needing to paint some more big toy soldiers….


‘So, now we have cut the road?’

‘Just about, sire.’

‘The French will be a bit unhappy about that.’

‘Yes, sire. So will the English. We have two badly wounded Englishmen to deal with as well, but they seem to be doing well on a snail diet.’


‘A French delicacy, sire. Actually, they have rejected the snails but we are feeding them English beer so they seem happy enough.’