Monday 28 September 2020

Italian Wars rematch, first half

Saturday was a busy wargaming day. First of all I hosted a virtual Italian Wars game. The new lockdown rules meant that I couldn’t have anybody round to help move the troops (we could’ve all gone round to the pub but I can’t have one person in the house! Bonkers logic Boris! Katherine very kindly offered to help move troops but she actually spent the time monitoring the technology, and enjoying and laughing at the banter and occasional hysteria of the players. Richard, John and Neil were the French and Conrad, Paul and Nigel the allied Spanish, Papal and Florentine army, hereafter referred to as the League. The Venetians from last week would’ve tipped the balance too far against the French so they were deemed to have got peeved over something and taken their ball home.

The table looking along the League line from their left. The river can be crossed at half speed.
And the French line stretches off into the distance, as seen from their right wing.

The aim of the game was for the League to attack and capture the French camp. In doing so they’d release the kidnapped Florentine soccer team ( see here) netted by the French on their way to a tough away fixture in Milan. Obviously the League had to defeat the numerically inferior but (largely) qualitatively superior French. The  League were also induced to attack vigorously as for each BUA they captured they’d receive 1D3 back in lost stamina points to use as they saw fit. (What I didn’t say was that if they then subsequently lost a BUA they’d loose the extra stamina points. Tee hee). The French were disadvantaged by having -2 on their leadership levels in turn one and -1 in turn 2. We were using Pike and Shotte, which are not the best but are the easiest to handle remotely. I have a very few house rules, e.g. I give crossbows closing fire and mounted crossbows and arquebusiers’ range is reduced to 12”.  The troop characteristics are also different to the rule book, and are based on some produced and kindly given to me by James Roach (Olicanalad) with a few changes of my own.


So here we go, with the photos hopefully supporting the narrative. They should be in the correct order but sometimes they rearrange themselves when uploading to the blog.

The League centre. It stayed that side of the river until turn 3 when the Spanish attacked. The Papal troops were facing lots of Swiss so were less keen to advance.
The League left held by a large unit of Lansdneckts.
The French right comprised several units of Swiss pike.

Neil's Swiss advanced quickly towards the Papal troops and were getting very close to the river, driving the League skirmishers back before them.
The four Spanish Colona in the centre failed to pass their command rolls until turn 3. 

On the French left, the two units of Argoulettes were outnumbered by swarms of Spanish Ginettes and some Italian mounted crossbowmen. Behind that lot were some Florentine Condotta cavalry and militia crossbows and heavy infantry.

The Spanish and Neapolitan gendarmes were quick to cross the river.

Papal gendarmes cross the bridge in the face of lots of Swiss.

After a slow start the Spanish in the centre raced across the river and assaulted the church, which was held by a unit of French arquebusiers. The Spanish Colonas finally make it over the river!

The leading Swiss block is huge. 64 figures. Is it really big enough? No.

Three blocks of Papal pike with Spanish artillery that had been taking potshots at the Swiss..

On the French left, a huge block of Lansdnechts advanced against a unit of Italian crossbowmen which evaded and in doing so unmasked two Italian multi-barrelled light guns. Amazingly the guns didn't cause many casualties (just one if I remember correctly) on the pike block, but did disorder them.

Conrad's Spanish gendarmes crossed the river ahead of their infantry and charged a unit of Gascon crossbowmen. Not surprisingly the crossbowmen were broken but they did cause a few hits on the Spanish who withdrew to safety rather than sweep forward.
The Gascon crossbowmen were last seen here.
King Charles VIII of France, as he looked (apparently) at the Battle of Fornovo, but not as wet.

Two Colonas assaulted the abbey. Amazingly the garrison was made of some hard nosed French and the Spanish were unable to break in.
Spanish and Neapolitan gendarmes poised for another attack.

The French pike charged the Spanish but failed miserably and were forced to retreat.
Richard’s French pikemen recoiled after loosing to the Spanish and had become shaken and disordered
Richard then ordered his other unit of French pike to charge the Spanish on the other side of the Abbey. Again they were defeated by the tough Spanish, and this time they broke and ran. 

On the French left John's gendarmes advanced to clear away the enemy light cavalry. The French light cavalry had been driven back by the Stradiots and weren't in much of a hurry to get stuck in again, contenting themselves with covering the flank of their gendarmes buddies.

The main body of French gendarmes began to advance (or trundle) in the centre.

No, its not Mission Control, quite. After lunch we kept loosing broadband, probably due to everyone in Middlesbrough downloading something to watch on tv later in the evening! My wife kept things going throughout the day leaving me to run the game. Isn't she wonderful! 

The other unit of Gascon Crossbows advance behind the flank of the Swiss.

John's huge Landsnecht block had been holding its ground but while he went off line for five minutes Richard ordered them forward.

The French Landsnechts on their left  facing a load of angry crossbowmen and two cannon.

I love this village I put together from a random selection of 'Hovels' resin buildings. 

Seen from the League perspective the French Landsnechts look pretty menacing.

Neils Swiss on the extreme right failed several command rolls, which when you only need nine or less is pretty bad luck!

Sadly at this point mid afternoon the internet finally won so we agreed to pause the game and restart it on Friday. It's still very much in the balance. The League left was unwilling (probably wisely) to move against the Swiss, but  the Swiss were coming to them instead. In the centre the Spanish were across the river,  and the three large blocks of Papal pikes were rooted to the ground. The abbey was under attack by several Spanish Colonas but the French defenders were holding, although their supporting units had taken a battering, and two had broken. The French gendarmes had begun to trundle forward to plug the gap. On the French left their light cavalry were hanging on providing support for more gendarmes, while the Landsneckts were in danger of being shot to pieces of the Italian crossbow men and artillery could bring all their weapons to bear, and there was also the danger of Spanish and Neapolitan gendarmes at the Landsnecht’s ‘three o’clock’. As we left the game the Landsnecht two-handed swordsmen were about to charge the guns and the French Gendarmes were trying to charge and break through the Genitors to get at the Italian gendarmes.

A good game so far, visually pretty damned good imho, and not too bad from my perspective in moving the troops and offering equal amounts of advice to both sides while my wife manned NORAD to keep things running when t’internet got dodgy. Thanks to all the players and the missus and I’m looking forward to resuming in a few days time with those who are able to join in.

Then at 4.30 uk time I joined the Virtual Wargames Group for a global chat about wargaming in general with some great 'show and tell' photos as well as a presentation from one of the members. A great way to finish the day.

End of part 1.

Friday 25 September 2020

A Quiet Couple of Weeks

 Well,  not much happened last week, and the same can be said for this week, so far at least. No game last weekend as I’ve been out of sorts with my arthritic back. As it turns out we have a localised lockdown N of us in Durham, Sunderland and Tyneside so most of my volunteer figure movers aren’t allowed out. I'm sure it'll get worse before it gets better but to be honest I'm quite content with the impact of 'the Great Confinement' on my life. We lost some holidays but have been refunded in full and we still can't go swimming but we both have plenty of stuff to keep us occupied and sane. Just chilling and painting at a careful leisurely pace. 

Nice weather though last week and a bit of this so I was in the garden sticking a bunch of MDF Italian buildings together, a mix of Sarissa and TTC (the Streets of Venice range off the latter are great, attractive, easy to put together and cheap). I'm working towards building a walled Italian town to put in one corner of the table. Most of the walls and towers are constructed but everything needs painting. I’ll show them when they’re done. They're all very nice but my Hovels Mediterranean house are much smaller. It'll work though. 

I’ve finally managed to get my Florentine ‘soccer’ team completed, albeit a bit hurriedly.

Before anyone asks, the guy with the spear is the goalkeeper and the two with swords are defenders. With all those sharp pointy things in the game, plenty of new balls are required, hence the chaps waving several spares in the air. The figures are from Mirliton in Italy.

Below is a unit of Italian militia heavy infantry with polearms and shields. I used water slide decals for the shields which were very fiddly but worth it I think. These are Perry Miniatures.

I’ve also completed another three units totalling 18 Gendarmes I had lying around; one Neapolitan (Foundry), one Florentine Condottieri (Foundry) and the other French (Steel Fist). I’m toying with the idea of doubling up the figures in a unit of gendarmes from six to 12.  Maybe I will, maybe not but they were there to paint.

French gendarmes from Steel Fist
Neapolitan gendarmes (Foundry)
Florentine Condottieri (Foundry)

I have another Italian Wars game planned for Saturday. Not sure of the scenario yet. 

Wednesday 16 September 2020

New book from Helion. Neither Up Nor Down.

 I’m getting spoilt at the minute with the number of books being published that cover topics I’ve a massive interest in. Well, the latest in Helion’s ‘From Reason to Revolution’ series fits firmly into that category. Philip Ball has written a scholarly and richly told account of the British Army and it’s part in the Flanders Campaign of 1793-1795 with his latest offering, ‘Neither Up Nor Down.’ I expected it to be good based upon Phil’s previous book ‘A Waste of Blood and Treasure’ which covered the Anglo-Russian Helder campaign on 1799. I was not to be disappointed.

The British army that left our shores to fight in Flanders during the War of the First Coalition against Revolutionary France has been till now seriously neglected when compared to its later  campaigns in Spain and in the 100 Days Campaign. This was not a well-oiled precision instrument of war by any stretch of the imagination. Most of the army was spread in penny packets throughout Britain’s overseas possessions and the army at home was in a pitiful state. The weak infantry battalions, ie most of them, were brought up to strength with drafts and often unwilling recruits, they were ill disciplined and badly supplied, they struggled with the climate and terrain of Flanders and were at best only adequately led. Some battalions were so bad as to be deemed unfit for active service and were left behind. Despite this the army was to perform well and learn while on campaign and it came out of it better than when it went in, even though the campaign ended disastrously.

The experiences of the British army, operating as part of a multi-national force including Austrians, Prussians, Hanoverians, assorted Hessians, Dutch and Emigres are told warts and all, as the Coalition struggled to contain and defeat the often vast armies of Revolutionary Frenchmen, hampered as the commanders were hampered by often conflicting political considerations. The many battles and sieges are chronicled in great detail and are covered in such a way as to be clearly followed, blow by blow, on the maps or even on the actual ground.

The author uses a wide range of British, French and German sources, as evidenced by the impressive bibliography, and contains many contemporary, honest and sometimes colourful accounts, by officers and men, of incidents in the campaign as it progressed. The author has walked many of the battlefields and researched extensively to produce a well written in depth and authoritative account of the campaign, complete with some excellent maps, lots of black and white illustrations and some excellent orders of battle for both sides at various key stages of the campaign.

To be fair, this is a period in history about which I do know a fair amount,  but I was still chomping at the bit waiting for this book to be published as I was sure it would contain much that I didn’t know and perhaps it would all be presented with a different ‘spin’ rather than a simple re-hash of already known ‘stuff’. Well, the book does all that and more, and I would wholeheartedly recommend Phil’s latest to anyone with even a passing interest in the British army of the French Revolutionary Wars. If you do, then this book deserves a place on your bookshelves.

Tuesday 15 September 2020

French Revolutionary Wars Campaign: The End...for now.

 I launched this campaign way back in the days before lockdown, sometime in February I think. Since then we’ve managed from September 1st to September 20th 1793. It involved ten players and several of my mates scattered around the globe who played the roles of Carnot, Dundas, Baron Thugut of Austria and the King of Prussia. A couple of the players were late comers but that was simply as a result of the way the narrative developed. At the start nobody knew who else was taking part and which character they were playing. All orders were to be sent via email through me so I could ensure they arrived at the right time, or not at all. During those 20 campaign days in September we played nine or maybe ten games on the tabletop and six sieges (With two exceptions these sieges were relatively small affairs as numerous factors contributed to their swift resolution) on the map. The first two battles were played in the old fashioned way of players around the table. The rest were either by email and photos, and then using Skype and ultimately Youtube to run the games remotely. The first game was actually a disguised scenario but resulted in the French capture of Menin.

(The area covered by the campaign with various coloured lines showing the movements of all the main armies) 

Looking first at the operations of the Anglo-Hanoverians on the coast, the siege of Dunkirk was proceeding slowly as the siege train had yet to arrive.Houchard’s plan  was to use the bulk of his force to smash the Anglo-Hanoverians before turning on the Austrians so three divisions were based around Cassel and Bergues while the other was around Lille. A sensible plan.

The area around Dunkirk, showing the site of the two-day battle at Hondschoote. Ypres was to fall to the French but the siege of Dunkirk was abandoned.

 Spirited sorties from Dunkirk and aggressive patrolling around Bergues kept the English on their toes, while the Hanoverians occupied a line of outposts through the marshes and fields in front of Hondschoote, their main position. On 4 September the French under Jourdan attacked Hondshoote but were driven back with heavy losses. The next day they attacked again, this time supported by Houchard who hit them from behind. The Hanoverians and Heasians were soundly beaten, even the Hanoverian Guards were routed, and the Duke of Cambridge captured for a few hours, and those troops that could withdrew to Dixmude.  On hearing of this defeat the English were fearful of being caught between the French and the sea and withdrew to Furnes. There were already cavalry patrols from General Souham’s division on the road  between the Furnes to Dunkirk canal and the sea that had to pushed back but the English eventually made it back to Furnes.  They then faced off General Souham’s division before the latter slipped away to rejoin Houchard. The Duke of York received a request for help from the Austrians so after several days rest began to march towards Courtrai. They reached Courtrai, just as it had surrendered, so pulled back to Inglemunster, collecting some Austrian hussars and the battered Army of the Conde on the way.

That really ended the campaign in western Flanders but it had been hotting up around Courtrai for several days. A French division under Pichegru had been screening the movements of the main army as they dealt with the English, based on Lille then Menin, and had laid siege to Ypres. The main Austrian army, with the Emigres, had abandoned the siege of Le Quesnoy and headed for Tournai and then Courtrai. A division of troops were deployed on each side of the R. Lys, connected by two pontoon bridges. Most of Pichegru’s command pounced on the Emigres on the left bank of the river and shattered them, taking many prisoners. The Austrians under Kinsky on the opposite bank tried to intervene but were driven back, as was a brigade of Clerfeyt’s Austrians from Courtrai. Both Austrian brigades lost heavily. 

The central area, around Menin and Courtrai, and the scene of many key battles. 

Meanwhile Houchard turned to deal with the Austrians while the Anglo- Hanoverians faffed about. Houchard reached Menin on 7th or 8th September and put in place a plan that would ultimately see the end of the Austrians. Aggressive patrolling on the left bank prevented the Coalition from gaining much intelligence while two divisions under Pichegru and Souham attacked Kinsky’s Austrians on the right bank of the Lys. Reinforcements from Courtrai and the Dutch contingent from Ghent commanded by a non-player character, ie a D20, fought their way through the French cavalry who’s instructions had been to prevent the Austrians in Courtrai from reinforcing Kinsky. Both French divisions struck Kinskys command and overran it. They also threw back the reinforcements capturing many prisoners (including Kinsky and two battalions of grenadiers). It was another significant victory for the Armee du Nord. Colberg withdrew all his infantry into Courtrai while most of his cavalry remained at Inglemunster. The shattered Dutch withdrew to Ghent a shattered force. The Emigres continued to withdraw towards the coast in the hope that the English would treat them better than the Austrians. (cont’d after these pictures).

Houchard began a formal siege of Courtrai. Colberg ordered a breakout, but this was stalled with heavy losses and yet more prisoners lost. On 14th September a practicable breach was opened in the wall and the Austrians asked for terms. The entire Austrian army, or what was left of it, marched off under parole, not to fight the French for a period of 12 months. The Austrians had no idea that the Anglo-Hanoverians were less than a day’s march away when the walls were breached.  The Anglo-Hanoverians were conned into withdrawing after being told that the terms of the surrender (which hadn’t yet taken place at this point) would include all troops within five miles of the city laying down their arms. The Anglo-Hanoverians put their honour first and withdrew, following which the Austrians under Coberg agreed to lay down their arms and open the gates.

By the end of just two weeks of campaigning the French had won several victories, and gained control of all except the most northerly crossing point of the R. Lys, thus isolating the Anglo-Hanoverian Army.  The area around the Menin, Courtrai and Mouscron triangle was to see more intensive battles in the next week of the campaign. Reinforcements for the Coalition had arrived at Tournai, while another strong French corps was approaching Tournai from the SW. The Prussians had moved towards Courtrai, via Mouscron, not knowing of the Austrian surrender. They were met by Pichegru and Jourdan near Mouscron and forced to pull back, although they did take Turcoing. The next few days were rather confusing. The new Austrian/Saxon/Bavarian corps was able to join the Prussians North of Turcoing while the Army of the Duke of Artois (not much more than a division really) was heading up the road from Tournai. Meanwhile the French Army of the Scarpe (their grandly named reinforcements) were also heading towards the Prussians. They brushed aside the Emigres and attacked the rear of the Prussian and Austro-Saxon army outside Turcoing while Pichegru and Jourdan attacked the Prussian and Austrian rearguard just south of Mouscron. The Prussians wrongly identified the French to their South as Emigres so were shocked when they were attacked. The French army also failed to spot the Emigres mentioned earlier who pounced on their rear as they were attacking the Prussians and Austrians. The French were routed and the few survivors pulled back to Lille. Fearful for his life after such an abject failure the French commander Gen Marceau-Desgraviers deserted to the Austrians, as did a regiment of hussars. Meanwhile another battle was going on North of the site of this Prussian victory. Pichegru and Jourdan attacked the Prussians and Austrians vigorously but their troops were beaten back each time they charged, and they were left with no option other than to pull back. Oddly enough this defeat was strategically in their favour.

The Prussians and Austrians (mainly Saxons) now found themselves totally cut off and out of supply as there was no direct route back their depot at Tournai. Abandoning their heavy artillery they retreated back towards Tournai to regroup.

At this point it was fair to award the French the laurels of victory as they had defeated most of the  Coalition forces they’d faced.  The Austrians were out of it. The Prussians, Saxons, Bavarians and Dutch were out of it, and the Hanoverians has been badly beaten. Only the British hadn’t been blooded in battle, with the exception of patrol skirmishes and the odd sortie around Dunkirk. French losses had been high but they remained an army in the field capable of continued action. The Coalition commanders agreed to an end to the campaign. We shall return in 1794, after we’ve played another period to deathπŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

Much thanks everyone who took a part in the campaign, including:

Conrad, (Prinz Von Saxe-Coberg-Saalfeld the Coalition Commander in Chief), Paul (FML Count Clerfeyt), Nigel (FML Count Kinsky and then Count Kaunitz after the former was captured), Neil (York), Mike (Conde), Dave ( GL von Knobbelsdorff), John the Red (Houchard), Steve (Pichegru), Shaun (Souham), Richard (Jourdan), John H (Marceau-Desgraviers), and the very remote players Chris in the Cotswolds (Carnot), Mark in Adelaide (Dundas), Ed in Mumbai (Baron Thugut of Austria), Mitch in Gothenburg (the Comte d’Artois) and my wife Katherine for setting up and keeping the technology going. I think that’s everybody. Worthy of note were the self-imposed characteristics adopted by many of the players. Steve was harbouring pro-royalist sympathies (as indeed did the real Pichegru), Neil played a wonderfully erratic Duke of York, Nigel decided Kinsky was going to be a drunkard spending most of his time with his face in a goblet of brandy, Conrad was an excellent ‘do it the way we’ve always done it’  Austrian and Dave a suitably Teutonic and very unlucky Prussian. Paul kept himself to himself so as not be tarred by any brushes that might have hit Coberg as he was second in command of the Austrians and a likely successor to Coberg should he be removed, and John the Red (who had a really good well thought out plan) and the French to  man were aggressive to the point of suicidal when in the spotlight, spurred on by the fear of failure, otherwise certainly Pichegru, possibly the others, had their own agendas. Finally Mike was an excellent Conde, sick of the Austrians fighting to the last Emigre he joined the English who were only busy fighting to the last German. All highly amusing, especially as communications between players was often non existent!

(A postscript. Early in the campaign things had not been moving fast enough for Paris, despite Houchard’s initial victories and strategic acumen (that’s what he said). Nevertheless, Carnot’s agents reported unfavourably of Houchard. A despatch was written (by my good friend Chris down at the other end of the country who was playing Carnot) and sent to the Representative of the People attached to the Armee du Nord, ordering Houchard’s removal and appointing Pichegru as the commander of the army. Houchard was not however recalled to Paris but as an alternative to a personal development interview with the Committee of Public Safety,was offered the command of a division, under Pichegru. The despatch was delayed and did not arrive with the army until 21st September, the day after the campaign concluded).