Sunday 31 December 2023

The Battle of Castillon, 1453. The Death Knell for English France

The battle of Castillon in 1453 marked the swan song of English France and the effective end of the Hundred Years War. Peter Hoskins’ book, number 21 in Helion & Co’s from Retinue to Regiment series, takes us through the background and events leading up to the campaign and battle, the battle itself and its aftermath. Also discussed are the military reforms of the French King Charles VII and the evolution of gunpowder weapons and cannon which were to allow the French to conclusively destroy the English army under John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, and drive the English out of Aquitaine and Gascony once and for all, a disaster of epic proportions for the English monarchy. 

This is a well written and easy to read book, and clearly the author has conducted a great deal of research from a wide range of sources. The book boasts several well presented maps, a fair few photographs of the area as it is today and of preserved artillery pieces, and the usual fabulous central pages containing eight colour plates depicting examples of the soldiers of the time, and banners and coats of arms of some of the main participants.

If the late Medieval period and the Hundred Years War number among your interests, whatever the reason, this book should make an enjoyable and rewarding read.

ISBN: 978-1-804513-55-2 soft back, 125 pages

Monday 25 December 2023

Poland, 7 Febru1807: Bagration’s Rearguard Action on the Eve of Eylau

Due the imminent closeness of Christmas our (almost) weekly get together was on Friday. I decided to run a game I’d seen in one of the numerous scenario books I seem to have picked up over the years then forgot I owned. This one was in Battles for Empire by James Arnold, an excellent on line publication. The scenario covered the rearguard action fought by the Russians on the eve of Eylau to give time for the main Russian army and its artillery to get safely into position. 

The table from the north. The Russian rearguard deployed along the eastern baseline. The first of the French are deployed on the table at the start, right under the Russian guns at Blue Star 1 on the map. The rest of the French would arrive at Blue Star 2 and (maybe) Blue Star 3. Gonna be a tough one mes braves

I joined Jim and Nigel on the Russian side, and John, Paul and Conrad were the French. I don’t have any 1807 French finished yet (still in the sticking together and painting pile), so most of the French were my French Revolutionary War miniatures, (button counters look away now) with the addition of several battalions of French infantry and some cavalry brought by Conrad and John. Conrad’s figures were 1970s Ross or Rose (?) 25mm, and while smaller than the rest of the army they still looked good 50 years on.

We used Valour and Fortitude again as I’m determined to try and get everyone’s head round them before I launch into  Napoleonic campaign later this year 🤫🤐. Anyway, on with the game. The photos are in more or less the right order and my recollection of what was going on at the southern end of the table is rather vague as I was busy trying to get my Dragoons, Lithuanian Horse and Cossacks to activate, and when they did they were convincingly whipped by the French cavalry! The French had the option, which they chose to take, of sending Murat their CinC off to find reinforcements, which would hopefully arrive at Blue Star 3 around turn 3 or 4.

The Russian centre with a wonderful target for their massed artillery.
The Russians seen from the north, with the French vanguard in sight to the right in 5he distance.

French cavalry were advancing unchallenged as my cavalry brigade refused to activate!
 For three turns!
John commanded the French in the centre and quickly tried to move north to avoid being blasted to kingdom come by the Russians massed artillery.

It took an age for me to activate my cavalry, and they finally advanced to counter the attack by Paul’s French cavalry, coming off a definite second best as my uhlans and dragoons were bounced back. We were not broken so could re-engage later….I hoped.
My Cossack brigade on the extreme right was also very difficult to get moving, but eventually and against their better judgment, they moved forward.
The Russian cavalry are recovering, giving the French the time and space to continue their attack.

French dragoons getting the better of my uhlans. The French also charged and rode down a battery of combined regimental artillery as can be seen in the background.

Conrad’s division and the reserve artillery deploy ready to assault. They could have saved time by crossing the stream rather than all using the bridge.

Johns division still under fire from the Russian artillery. Two units were broken but by now Murat had returned with reinforcements that arrived on the northern table edge, tipping the balance in their favour in the northern sector.

In the distance on the Russian left, Conrad’s division prepares to assault Jim’s position.

Conrad’s assault on Jim’s troops goes in with some success.

Massed Russian artillery under fire from the French reserve artillery seen in the distance.

Nigel’s grenadiers come off the hill and attack John’s extended division, although the latter did well and blunted the Russian attack. 

The Russian left is overrun. One battalion has already broken and the guns are about to be ridden over, as can be seen in the next photo. A wall of infantry squares blocked the French from exploiting their breakthrough. On the other flank the Cossacks had been routed and the Russian reserve cavalry was slow in entering the table, and then in reduced numbers, although enough to stop the French getting too close to the road to Eylau.

The battle ended with a couple of turns of dusk before night fell, at around 4:00pm game time and 3:30 real time.The victory conditions required the Russians to hold on till nightfall without allowing too many French units from teaching the eastern table edge. The end result was a minor tactical victory for the Russians (as in the real battle) but at great cost. It was a cracking game and challenging for both sides. I still think V and F are a good set of rules, and while I can’t expect to please everyone all the time I do believe they’re worth playing with some more so everyone can get up to speed with them. 


Wednesday 20 December 2023

Basing Frenzy Continues!! More Russians.

Well I’ve really got the bit between my teeth, or is it grit between my teeth, and have now caught up and all my early Napoleonic Russian units are now based, grassed and tufted. I still have some more (half a dozen battalions, some more cavalry and commanders) to paint but the pressure is off. 

Five more battalions of infantry

Two battalions of the Azov Musketeers, as is usual they are Casting Room Miniatures.

Three battalions of the Fangoria Grenadiers. I chose to do these in their 1805 headgear for a change, tall mitres for the actual grenadier battalion of the left and short mitres for the two fusilier battalions. These are Perry miniatures and technically they have the wrong back packs for 1805-1808, but I wanted a standing regiment in greatcoats so went with them. 

All the flags are from Maverick Models and jolly nice they are too. 

Monday 18 December 2023

King George’s Army Review.


British Regiments and the Men Who Led Them 1793-1815, volume 1: Administration and Cavalry’ by Helion regular Steve Brown is one of the latest in the from Reason to Revolution 1721-1815 series. 

This is the first of a planned series of five books which will go on to cover the infantry (vols.2–4) and Ordnance and other regiments (vol.5).

Well, what you get is a veritable encyclopaedia of information, providing, as an example of the level of detail, over 1,000 mini-biographies of the men who commanded the cavalry or were in senior administrative posts in Britain and across the globe.  When presenting this sort of detail it becomes easier to remember that these men, for all their privilege and in most cases wealth, gave their careers and lives in many cases, for their regiment and their country. Pretty much anything one might want to know about any particular individual is there, so their dates of birth and death, parentage, education, career, awards and places of residence are brought together in such a way as to make this book much more than just a list of names and statistics. The use of the purchase system to climb the promotion ladder by migrating between regiments (and arms of service) and the idiosyncrasies of the brevet system are also evident in these pen-pictures. There are also potted service histories of each of the cavalry regiments on the army establishment during the wars against the French.

The author has consulted a vast array of primary, secondary and unpublished sources. The appendices are  equally fascinating providing details of the yearly returns of the army, grouped into years, by regiment and posting, which demonstrate, among other things, the woefully understrength nature of many regiments whether abroad or on home duties.

Is this book good? In a word, yes. Military historians, amateur and professional, war gamers and even genealogists will find this publication of great value, so I can recommend this book unreservedly; roll on the next four volumes, especially if there is one covering medical services where I expect to find a hint of an army physician ancestor. I hope. However, remember to ensure enough space on the bookcase for the remaining volumes in the series.

ISBN: 978-1-804513-41-5 soft back, 353 pages

Saturday 16 December 2023

Quite a few more new Russians!

I completed the basing of these four battalions of Russian jäger this evening. The one on the right is by Elite Miniatures and are rather nice, and a change to greatcoats. The other three battalions are from the Casting Room Miniatures Early Russian Napoleonics. 

The right hand battalion is larger as it has a carabinier company. I don’t know if they actually did have such a thing in the years I’m interested in (1805-1809), and trust me to pick a time span where the Russian army went through some significant uniform and organisational changes. I guess it means I can do what I like. I’ve got half a dozen more battalions to base up this coming week. Oh joy!

I reckon it’ll be time for a Russian army parade very soon. I just need to clear the table still as I’ve been out of sorts much of this week. Still, a very productive week in terms of figures completed.

Friday 15 December 2023

A Few More Russians

This week I managed to complete two units for my early Napoleonic Russian project. This was supposed to only be a small (?) project to refight the Russo-Swedish War 1808-1809. Like the Lambton Worm in local folklore it has grown and grown an awful size, although I doubt even all my the Russians could encircle Penshaw Hill(quite).

First up, a couple of images of my next artillery battery. This time it is a light field battery, with eight 6pdrs and four light unicorn gun/howitzers. Finding space for the whole battery has been an issue in the last couple of games, but splitting them into two works ok and makes them more manageable.

Next, is the second battalion of the St. Petersburg Grenadiers, ready to join the first battalion currently in barracks under my table. 
The 1st and 2nd battalions together.

All the figures with perhaps two exceptions are old Casting Room Miniatures. There are a couple of Elite Miniatures officers in there somewhere. The flags are slightly oversized which I like, and are from the exceptionally good Maverick Models. I can’t recall where the cannon are from as they were salvaged from the box of doom.

No game this weekend, but I really hope to get at least one decent-sized battle in over the Christmas holidays.

Fit to Command. British Regimental Leadership in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars


‘Fit to Command. British Regimental Leadership in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars’ by Steve Brown is a recent addition Helion’s from Reason to Revolution series. This study is of an often overlooked subject, but a fascinating one for all that.

This is an excellent and well researched study of the leadership at the regimental/battalion level in the British army of the period. Each chapter introduces us to a detailed analysis regarding such subjects as ‘Officership’, the Regimental Colonel, Battalion and Regimental Management, Purchase and Promotion, and much, much more. No aspect of this complicated topic  seems to have been missed, and the author has done a great job in exposing the strengths and weaknesses of the system, as well as its many idiosyncrasies, all of which make rewarding reading. If I was to select my favourite chapter it would that  entitled ‘Retirement, Dismissal and Removal. 

For anyone interested in the British army of the Napoleonic and Revolutionary wars then this publication will open your eyes to the amazing institution that was (and is) the ‘Regiment’ and how, despite the many shortcomings, was a success on campaign and on the battlefield.

There are several useful maps and black and white illustrations together with numerous tables dotted throughout the book. The first appendix gives us pen pictures of some of the key regimental players who served during the wars (something I always find particularly interesting), while the second is a statistical analysis of commanding officer cohorts to satisfy those of readers to whom numbers come alive.

For such a potentially dull subject, the opposite is true as the author has excelled in presenting the outcomes of their research, demonstrated by the extensive bibliography, in such a well written and readable way.  An excellent book and well worth adding to the book collection.

ISBN: 978-1-915070-42-5.  Soft back, 368 pages

Thursday 14 December 2023

Pavlograd Hussars


The latest Russian Napoleonic unit to march out of barracks is the Pavlograd Hussars. These were painted by Barry and based by me. The miniatures are 3D resin prints. As with my resin cuirassiers, these prints are really good, detailed, and most importantly, robust enough to survive the Tabitha Test, i.e. when my cat rolls over and sits on them. 

As with my other hussar regiment, I’ve gone big. 36 figures. Too big? Nah! Six squadrons looks very impressive and can be split into two if necessary, whenever that might be…..

Monday 11 December 2023

St Petersburg Grenadiers

This is the 1st battalion of the St Petersburg Grenadiers.  I chose to do them with their 1805 facings; turquoise collars and cuffs, and raspberry shoulder straps is a nice combination. The 2nd battalion together with a full battery (6 guns and crews) of 6pdr foot artillery are within sight of the finishing line. 

In other news, my deep dive into the garden shed of doom is a bag of mainly Russian Crimean War limbers and teams, a dozen of them! I remember trawling bring and buys, eBay and the like a few years ago for cheap limbers and must have been so successful that I promptly forgot all about them! I’d better get them done as they can be used for Crimean and Napoleonic Russians I reckon.

The Grenadiers are Casting Room Miniatures and the flags are from Maverick Models. I’m not 100 percent happy with them so once the other two battalions are done I shall see what I can do with them.

Sunday 10 December 2023

Leuthen Anniversary Game , well sort of………

I have often run a Leuthen game each year on or near to the anniversary of the battle (5 December 1757). This year I shifted 49 years forward and set the game in 1806, without snow. The Prussians were replaced by French and the Austrians and Reichsarmee by Prussians  and Saxons. It was easy enough adapting the orders of battle but I ended up with a fairly high proportion of cavalry. This was fine by me as this meant I could field all my lovely 1806 Prussian and Saxon cavalry. I decided to use Valour and Fortitude rather than Black Powder, General D’Armee or similar. Only John and I have played V&F and was unsure how they would be received by the others, so that might have been a risky decision. Anyway, house rule number 1 is play the period not the rules, and busk it if necessary with regard to the latter.

Also, it amused me to deliberately not tell anyone that they were refighting the Leuthen game. I replaced the iconic church with the Schrauben Metalwork and Gun Foundry. This and the fact that there was no blanket of snow covering all the roads, streams, fields and so forth helped with the disguise. I don’t know if anyone guessed.

John the Red, Conrad and Shaun were the French, and Paul, Jim and Neil the Prussian-Saxon forces. The defenders would be steadily reinforced to the point where they would potentially outnumber the French, while the French would have the immediate tactical advantage of the Saxon brigade being caught in the middle of the battlefield on the French right. The French would also be reinforced, but much more quickly, and hopefully win a swift victory. Mmmmmm?

The Prussian and Saxon miniatures are one of my favourite collections. Most of the Prussian infantry are by the now sadly defunct FG Miniz of Paris. The rest, and the Saxons, are Elite or Foundry. The French, with exception of the cuirassiers, were just my Revolutionary Wars collection (my 1805-1807 French are still to be stuck together). No apologies to the button counters; indeed I plan to do some replacement flags to swap as required with the less revolutionary-looking battalions, not as much as a matter of keeping costs down but due to space, or the increasing lack of it, in the Burrow.

The French (on the right) begin their attack. North is the long side of the board on the left.

The Prussian defenders cluster around the Schrauben Gun Foundry, garrisoned by two fusilier battalions.

The Prussians to the north west of the factory.
Conrad had command of the French cavalry on their right. The Saxons were quickly forced into squares.

Two Saxon battalions, their artillery and hussars retire, covered by their comrades in square.
The French advance guard, tasked with leading the assault on the factory.
Conrad put four regiments of cuirassiers and two of chasseurs in column and proceeded to gallop down the right edge of the table, but were held by several Saxon and Prussian cuirassier units that has just made a timely appearance.
The Prussian garrison of the town and factory area was hindered by the impossibility of their brigade commander being in two places at once. They were covering an area of about four feet end to end, so some hard riding was called for.
The French attack develops.
The Saxon commander overseeing the withdrawal of his men.

The French advance guard are now trying to drive off the Prussian grenadiers defending this end of the town. 
The French main body is quickly moved up in support of the embattled and struggling advance guard.

The Saxon hussars charge a regiment of French hussars while a second French regiment has attacked and overrun a Saxon battery lurking behind the tree line (deemed not to be an obstacle to the cavalry).

The view from the French reserve artillery position as large numbers of Prussians and Saxons arrive across the table.

Two regiments each of Prussian and Saxon cuirassier.

The Saxon square took a considerable hammering from the French artillery, and even flukily beat off a French cavalry attack on the central square when it became shaken. Sadly, Conrad threw a '1' so he bounced, even with the +2 modifier for charging a shaken square.

Four regiments of Saxon cheveau-leger advancing on the French left.
The French dragoons made another attempt at the squares, breaking one this time.

The attack on the town continued throughout almost the entire game. The French took heavy losses.
The final French reinforcements arrived to face a mass of enemy cavalry.

On the allied right Neil finally got to throw some dice, and in the penultimate turn made up for his late entry into the game by completely destroying John’s cavalry brigade of carabiniers and dragoons with his Saxon cheveau-leger. 
This rather busy photo shows the bitter fighting in the town as it reaches its height, the French failing to evict the Prussians.

In a final act, the Prussian cuirassiers hit a battalion of French before they could form square, destroying them.

So, in this version of Leuthen the French took a drubbing and were beaten, taking heavy losses.  This is always a difficult scenario for the attackers but I did think the Prussian and Saxon defenders would have struggled to hold. How wrong I was. The French cavalry on their right was unable to make any progress against the Saxons, and in the centre their attacking force was repeatedly hit in the flank by aggressive Prussian and Saxon moves. The collapse of the French left was the icing on the cake and it was all over.

I had thought the French could have bypassed the Saxon squares or not get drawn into fighting with them, and just pulverised them with artillery. Conrad's cavalry had too little space to manoeuvre once the squares were formed although I'm not sure where they could have gone, except maybe a wild dash to overwhelm the Prussians to the west of the town and factory. We will never know the outcome of that rather rash idea.

I ended the game with a bit of a downer as I wasn't convinced that the rules worked or that everyone had enjoyed the experience. As with all games these days for us aging gamers, we all kept on misremembering rules and even getting rule sets mixed up. There are some issues I have with both the rules and the army lists that the Perrys provide, but these can be easily rectified. For a simple set of rules they gave me an inversely massive headache by the end of the afternoon but everyone said they enjoyed the game. Another attempt is called for before judgement is finally passed. 

Might have a game next Saturday, as it'll be the last chance before the commercialised hyped up nonsense that is Christmas. Bah, Humbug and all that!