Wednesday 31 March 2021

I hosted a game on Saturday. Suvorov in Switzerland: The Battle of Altdorf, 25 September 1799

It’s been a few weeks since I last laid a game on for the Virtual Burrowers, due largely to me struggling with a spike in the nerve pain I get in the back and all points south as a result of crumbling vertebrae No’s L5 and L6. 

Anyway, as I was back to my 'normal' I took the guys to a remote Alpine valley in late September 1799 where the Russian army under General Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov encountered a French blocking force intent halting the Russian withdrawal from Northern Italy through Switzerland to join with General Rimsky-Korsakov in Zurich. This plan would change when Korsakov's army was defeated outside Zurich on 25/26 September. Surrounded by the French, and having to struggle through high mountain passes in atrocious conditions, Suvorov’s army was to fight and win 12 battles in 17 days as they marched through Switzerland, loosing a quarter of their army, yet they reached the safety of Upper Germany while skilfully avoiding the closing net of vastly superior French forces.  Conrad, Paul and Neil were the Russians while Richard, Shaun and Mark took the French. We used Black Powder 2 with my usual house rules, as they are by far the easiest set to use (as the host) when running a game using Skype and live streaming through multiple cameras. (The way it works means that each player can chose which camera to use rather than me having to switch each time someone wants a different view).                                                                                      

From “Suvorov in the Alps”, by Tom Garnett. Superb book if you can get it. Six scenarios plus lots of background. Try Caliver Books. 

The Russian objective was simple. Cross the fast-flowing creek (impassable to artillery and cavalry) and capture two stone bridges and the village of Altdorf, all located on the French baseline. Altdorf was the destination of the main Russian supply column, which was marching there by a different route, and was due to meet up with the main body of the army, so the area HAD to be cleared of the French!

The Reuss river is impassable, as are the wooded mountains and the two rocky outcrops. The woods are classed as heavy. The fields and orchards provided light cover for troops within their boundaries. 

What the French were unaware of was that the Russians would be reinforced by a small Austrian force of four large but lumbering battalions which would arrive sometime from turn 2 onwards from the mountain pass to the East. 

The leading French brigade formed up behind the creek. A fifth battalion, of Legere, is just out of shot to the left.

French horse artillery. They proved to be a highly mobile and effective unit, popping up  all over the French left to stem the Austrian advance.

Cossacks looting Attinghausen - clearly with the blessing of the Church.
The French reserve under Richard - Dragoons, horse artillery and combined grenadiers.
The French first line under Mark. The battalion seen in column was withdrawn to the reserve before the battle started.
The open ground on the French right and the Alpine pass beyond.

The French reserve quickly pushed forward to counter the marauding Cossacks.

After a moment of hesitation Paul's Russians cross the creek, covered by the borrowed 2pdr Piedmontese mountain gun. 

As the Russians mass to cross the creek Shaun's brigade pushes two battalions and his artillery forward.

The Russians ready themselves to attack.

The Russian secret weapon, a Catusha!

Both sides exchanged some damaging volleys of musketry and canister across the creek.

The initial Russian thrust is halted.

Turn 3 (they were late) and the Austrians began to arrive.

They left the pass and quickly deployed to face the French cavalry and reserve.

Richard's dragoons had to content themselves with chasing off the annoying Cossack skirmishers while the horse artillery prepares to batter the Austrian squares. 

The French commander receiving a pep talk from the Political Officers attached to his HQ.

The French first line was broken or pushed back allowing the remaining Russians (another six battalions) to cross the creek.
Exhausted dragoons after west another attempt to ride down the Cossack skirmishers.

A battalion of French is broken. They take their supporting artillery company with them as they rout.

One minute the gunners were there serving their guns, the next they'd vanished!

Conrad split his brigade. Three battalions headed for Attinghausen, securing the bridge and driving off the battalion of Frenchmen defending it. The others marched straight up the road to Altdorf, taking advantage of the disorganised nature of the French defence.

The battlefield from the West, towards the end of the action.

Shaun's brigade was doing sterling stuff holding off the advancing Russians but when their exposed right hand battalion was charged and broken it was game over. 

French horse gunners beating a hasty retreat

We agreed that the Russians were the undoubted victors. Mark’s French brigade was broken with over half its units destroyed. Shaun’s brigade was buckling and Richard’s reserve were getting the better of the Austrians so would maybe be in a position to finish them off before the Russians could, should they chose to, intervene. With no cavalry to speak of the Russians wouldn’t be able to mount an effective pursuit, and that wasn’t their goal anyway. 

Historically the Russians held off the French long enough to meet up with their supplies, but after learning of the defeat of Korsakov at Zurich, were then forced to divert to the high snowbound alpine passes in order to avoid the closing French net. Ten battles and ten victories later the survivors reached the safety of Upper Germany and the start of the long march home.

The Adventurous Life of Wellington’s Chief Medical Officer

Wartime medical services, especially those in place at the end of the 18th and start of the 19th centuries are a subject of almost ghoulish interest for me, fuelled further by my wife’s great, great, something, Grandfather who was a contemporary of McGriggor who also studied medicine at Edinburgh and served in the Peninsular War attached to the Portuguese army as a physician, and later as an Inspector of Hospitals, so there is every chance that the paths of these two men crossed at some point.

This book is subtitled “The Adventurous Life of Wellington’s Chief Medical Officer”, and what is described is quite an exceptional and certainly adventurous man, who was dedicated to his life to his profession and the welfare of the men under his care. He was to shape the British army’s medical services for decades to come. We follow McGrigor’s early years, then his service in Flanders, the West Indies, India, Egypt, Walcheren, and the Peninsular campaign, (during which he was captured but escaped en route to France, avoiding all attempts to recapture him until he was able to escape by fishing boat into the hands of one of the Royal Navy’s blockading squadron - definitely suitable materiel for a movie). McGrigor was a prolific note taker, and kept meticulous records throughout his career, which culminated in his position of Director General of the Army Medical Services, a post he held for 33 years until his retirement at the age of 77.

The author Tom Scotland is a surgeon and author of a number of other books on military surgery, and this book is without doubt a well researched and written account of McGrigor’s life, and makes an absorbing and enjoyable read. There are a large number of black and white plates (mostly contemporary portraits) and some useful maps. The appendices whet the ghoulish interest I referred to earlier, for example describing all causes of death in hospitals in the Peninsular between 1812-1814 and a fascinating nomenclature of diseases encountered by McGrigor during the same campaign.

This is another excellent publication by Helion & Company, and a worthy offering as part of the growing “From Reason to Revolution” series. A fascinating subject and a remarkable man. I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone with an interest in British army medical services during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, or of the wars in general.

Monday 22 March 2021

Another book review - “Carl Gustav Armfelt and the struggle for Finland during the Great Northern War”

Another masterpiece courtesy of Helion & Co. is upon us as the latest in their ‘Century of the Soldier’ series in the form of “Carl Gustav Armfelt and the struggle for Finland during the Great Northern War”

This is a fascinating and utterly absorbing account of the life of Armfelt and his role in the Great Northern War. Especially so as it unlocks the stories of the brilliantly executed but ultimately doomed campaign in the defence of Finland, and later the ill fated Norwegian campaign.

This is a scholarly piece of work, very detailed, well written and equally importantly, the translation is good. Despite the original being published nearly 70 years ago it doesn’t feel at all dated. The author Eirik Hornborg (1879-1965) was a prolific Swedish author and military historian, and the original book was published in 1953. The book is part a biography of Armfelt and part a meticulously researched account of the war. That Armfelt campaigned where he did means that we are fortunate to get an in depth analysis of the war in Finland and later in Norway. I am not aware of any other works in English that focus on these campaigns; most stick to the major battles against the Saxons, Russians and Danes, and of course Charles XII and Poltava, so we are presented with a refreshingly different perspective.

The book benefits from some excellent maps of the areas of operations and battles, as well as a colourful eight page centre section. I particularly like the images of the battlefields as they are today with the deployment of troops superimposed over them. The remaining colour illustrations are of portraits of the main players, plus a number of paintings of the battles and photos of existing battlefield memorials. In addition the book is copiously illustrated with black and white photographs or contemporary paintings and drawings. Best of all however are artist Maksim Borisov’s lovely pen and ink drawings of troops in action.

So, this is surely a must for anyone who has an interest in the Great Northern War. Highly recommended.

Sunday 21 March 2021

This week’s completions. Better Late (Romans) than never....

A modest contribution this weekend and a very brief post. A few bits n bobs to add to the 4thC Late Roman project before I start on some enemy, more Late Romans....and others. I had a major preparation and finger glueing blitz and have a further six assorted units of cavalry and some more command figures getting ready on the parade ground; all figures glued together, primed and some even started. Most should (with a fair wind and no mid-week crisis) be completed by this time next week.

A pair of scorpion bolt throwers. 

The first and as yet unnamed of my Roman commanders.

Staff slingers 

Another Roman command figure.

So that’s it for now.

Saturday 20 March 2021

Sieges of the '45

The chaps at Helion have published a great new work on siege warfare during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-1746, a copy of which dropped on my doormat a few days ago.

This is by far my favourite of author Johnathon Oates’ books; indeed it is pretty much my favourite book on the ‘45 Rebellion. Why? A generalisation perhaps, but all of the books I own on the subject, or I’m aware of that have been published, focus on the campaign, the politics, the battles and the personalities, but none just on the sieges, and in such detail. As we learn from this latest from Helion and Co’s Reason to Revolution series, the number of sieges were actually greater than the number of battles in the open, so plenty to go on.

The sieges in question by the way are: Ruthven Barracks (1745-46), Edinburgh City and Castle (1745), Carlisle City and Castle (1745), Stirling Town and Castle, Forts George, William and Augustus (1746), and Blair Castle (1746).

This all makes a refreshing change and an enthralling read. The book describes the background and progress of each of the sieges in great detail, enlivened in part due to the existence of a great deal of contemporary correspondence, which is cited in the book; in my mind something that always brings a subject to life, if only for the amusing spelling and grammar.

Not that there is an issue with either of those of course. Far from it. This book is well written, clearly referenced, and copiously illustrated, in both black and white and in colour, the latter being photographs of the places described in the book as they stand today. There are also a number of really clear and useful maps.

All in all this is an excellent new book which deserves a place on your book shelves if you have an interest in the ‘45 Rebellion. Highly recommended.

Friday 12 March 2021

Vendee Parade - Vive le Roi!!!!!


I thought I’d sort out my Vendee collection for the French Revolutionary Wars to see if I needed any more figures. I think the answer to that is a big NO looking at what I pulled out from their boxes today. I painted many of the figures but my mate Barry did the majority of the, but all based and flagged by me. I now also know how many figures need their bases finishing and given extra flags etc; a couple of hours work I reckon in short sessions. There's a right old mix of manufacturers, with Emperor Toad (the majority), Foundry, Foundry clone Casting Room Minis, Gringo and lots from Trent. Some of the figures are technically 'Paris Mob' and others are Sicilian Banditti, but they fit in nicely. There are even some West Wind civilians and clerics in the ranks somewhere. Most of the flags are from The Flag Dude purchased ages ago off Duncan McF at Trent Miniatures. The others are some very nice and newly-produced ones from Flags of war. 

The skirmishers are the main missile element of the army; the other units are intended to be mixed in with the pole armed bases. They've only been on the table in penny packets so the prospect of pitting all these against the Republics (far from) finest is beckoning. Click on the photos to embiggen.

Wednesday 10 March 2021

The Danish Army of the Napoleonic Wars 1801-1814, volumes 1 and 2

The Danish army of the Napoleonic Wars is not a widely written about subject, in English at least; it is certainly a niche area of interest. Enter Helion, and their ‘Reason to Revolution’ series, with Volume 1 of The Danish Army of the Napoleonic Wars 1801-1814 by David A. Wilson. This is the first of three volumes on the Danish army by the author, who has researched his subject thoroughly.

This little volume covers the uniforms and organisation of the high command and of the line and light infantry. After a brief introduction covering the background to Denmark’s involvement in the wars up until their surrender in 1814, there is an interesting chapter on recruitment, terms of service, weapons and training.

The bulk of the book is a detailed description of staff and infantry uniforms, regiment by regiment, illustrated by 23 very colourful and useful original pictures of the uniforms of each regiment, equipment, rank insignia, weapons and 19 pages of regimental flags. These pictures really make the book stand out and make understanding the uniforms of the Danish troops covered in this volume straightforward.

The book concludes with a number of appendices, covering among other things, the battle of Koge against the British in 1807 and campaign of the the Danish Auxiliary Corps in northern Germany in 1813/14. Other appendices include a discussion on Danish military music, the personal kit of your typical Danish infantryman and on Danish army rations (yum,  not). 

Overall then, lots to commend this book about. Certainly, and not just for students of the Napoleonic Wars, it gives a fascinating and detailed insight into the army of one of the lesser known players.

And now on to Volume 2.

This second volume describing the Danish army of the Napoleonic Wars 1801-1814 by David Wilson takes an almost forensic look at the uniforms, organisation and equipment of the cavalry and artillery.



Helion have yet again published a fascinating book on a particularly niche subject, but a subject that deserves to be explored by anyone with an interest in the Napoleonic Wars. As one might expect there is next to nothing written on this subject in English, so this series is most welcome. The Danes may not have been a major player but they certainly fought above their weight during 1813-14 in northern Germany. They also have the benefit of having an army with very colourful uniforms.

This volume follows the same format as the previous one, and after a brief introduction launches straight in to chapters on each of the different types of cavalry in the army; the Horse Guards, Heavy Cavalry, Dragoons and Light Cavalry and Hussars. There’s even a section on the Bosniak lance-armed squadron that was attached to the Hussars. The best bit of the book for me has to be the chapters on the artillery, engineers, sappers, the bridging train and the many different types of ordinance used and the organisation and set up of a company of artillery, including limber arrangements and so forth. Not forgotten are the many coastal artillery formations.

As with Volume 1 the book is very well laid out and a pleasant read, packed full of original artwork by the author, with 54 lovely colour plates, depicting the uniforms and equipment of each regiment of cavalry and of the uniforms and cannon of the artillery, engineers, the bridging train and pioneers. There are also depictions of the flags carried by the cavalry and of many of the range of cannon available to the Danish armed forces.

This is an excellent book and clearly a labour of love by the author. I can only sit and wait patiently for the third volume to be published.