Tuesday 21 May 2024

A Very Peculiar Battle, Fere-Champenoise, 25 March 1814

Another book review of my latest bit of holiday reading. The Battle of Fere-Champanoise, 25 March 1814 was indeed peculiar, and in more ways than one. As such this is a riveting account of the two battles, how they came about, and how they effectively merged into one single engagement certainly scores highly in the ‘peculiarity stakes’. 

The combatants could not have been different; on the Allied side the forces involved were wholly cavalry and horse artillery while the French were numerically superior but qualitatively inferior mix of infantry, cavalry and artillery. The Allies defeated one French force and separately destroyed a large and vital supply train, and in doing so opened up the road to Paris.

The author David Wright does a great job setting the scene from a political and military perspective, provides some interesting pen-pictures of the major players on both sides and describes the somewhat sorry state of the armies involved in the 1814 invasion of France, worn out by the campaigns of 1812 and 1813. My knowledge of the 1814 campaign is not as deep as other parts of the Napoleonic Wars (or perhaps my ignorance is greater?) and I found the entire build up to the battles fascinating and informative. The narrative detailing the battles is also well written and gives a clear picture of how both engagements evolved. There are a large number of highly detailed strategical together with tactical maps of the battlefields which are likely to be tremendously useful to the readership, especially those from the wargaming fraternity, and these, together with the comprehensive orders of battle found in the appendices add further to my overall view that this is an excellent book.

Included are a large number of illustrations. There are few black and white images of some of the key players, but pride of place must go to the wonderful centre section of 12 pages of colour images. These include a large number of colour uniform plates, photographs of the battlefields as they can be seen today.

Napoleonic buffs are guaranteed to find the book both entertaining and packed full of detail. My interest in the 1814 campaign has been jump started as a result and the author and Helion are to be commended on this book. There quite a few wargaming possibilities to consider, especially for those including me who like asymmetrical games.

ISBN 978-1-804514-37-5. Soft cover, 209 pages.

Saturday 18 May 2024

A Swedish Soldier in the Napoleonic Wars

Number 128 in Helion’s ‘from Reason to Revolution 1721-1815’ is this fascinating little book, A Swedish Soldier in the Napoleonic Wars: the Memoirs of Carl Magnus Hultin 1807-1814. The original manuscript has been sympathetically translated by Swedish author and historian Erik Faithful, who by no coincidence is a descendant of Hultin.

Sweden’s involvement in the Napoleonic Wars is an interesting subject in its own right, and Hultin served in one capacity or another from 1808 where he enlisted in the militia, through the war against Russia in 1808-1809 resulting in the loss of Finland during which he transferred to the regular army. He witnessed the overthrow of the unpopular king, Gustav IV Adolf, the ‘war’ against Britain then campaigned in Europe under Crown Prince Bernadotte against the French and Danes in 1813-1814 and finally the Norwegian campaign in 1814. He never rose to high rank, and retired from the army as a captain in 1842.

I have a great fascination with the Swedish army during this period, and these memoirs provide a candid, entertaining and revealing account of Hultin’s experiences during several key campaigns. Taken as they are from the lower end of the military hierarchy what we have is a valuable insight into the war from a totally different perspective than is the norm, and is full of stories about the soldiers and commanders complemented by some charming anecdotes.

The book contains a number of nice black and white illustrations, many of which are contemporary in origin, and others depict Swedish soldiers and I tems of surviving clothing. There are also several really useful maps showing the different areas campaigned over, plus a map of the battle of Retschow in 1813, fought between the Swedes and a Franco-Danish force.

This is a great book, and if like me one is interested in the Swedish participation in the Napoleonic Wars then I can recommend it highly. I for one would welcome more such books on the subject.

ISBN 978-804514-34-4.  Soft cover, 197 pages.

Sunday 12 May 2024

The Mystery of the Missing Comments

Not the title of a Famous Five or Sherlock Holmes novel sadly or even an episode of TTZ. I’d don’t  know how but several comments appear to have randomly disappeared before I have had the opportunity to approve them. Very weird and apologies to anyone affected. It wasn’t me and thank you to everyone who takes the time to comment, ideally positively or but even negativity. If or where appropriate.

Saturday 11 May 2024

3D Printing in Bangalore

 I found I had few .stl files on my laptop so after shopping around and struggling with the language and cultural issues of explaining what wargaming is, I found a guy who normally prints stuff for hospitals, the aerospace industry and things like that. He was up for a challenge so he ran these off for me and I am very happy with them all.

The two shots of houses are Leipzig townhouses from https://www.3dprintterrain.de/
They’ve been printed in 1/56 scale. I gave up trying to explain that I would like them rescaled to 1/72 so they’re a little larger than I would have liked but as well as the buildings shown they printed out some extra floors, initially as test pieces but all perfectly useable with a scratch built roof. Very reasonable price compared to buying them in the UK ready printed (about half the cost). We were coming here anyway so no need to factor in the cost of the flights!

The houses were done using FDM on a printer with a very large print plate (18” x 12”). They ran these Piano Wargames Miniatures https://pianowargames.de/  early Napoleonic Hessians off in resin. There are two battalions of 32, some skirmishers, a dozen cavalry, a battery of two guns and crew plus some mounted officers. They’re 28mm and as good as anything I’ve had from the UK, if not better in some cases. They worked out at a little under £1 a figure so while I can get them cheaper at home I don’t have the often long lead in times. Of course if I could get my own printer fixed…..but I need the space and don’t like the mess, not to mention impatient. I’m messy enough as it is without dollops of resin all over the place!

We are also speaking to some art students we have contacts with through the family network and so forth before we return, to see if they would be interested in doing some painting for me next time we visit. Guaranteed to be very affordable although I’d need to factor in getting the paints and materials to them. Not an insurmountable problem and worth exploring for the next visit probably in the new year.

Exciting isn’t it.

Tuesday 7 May 2024

A Bygone Age………

I came across these on t’interwebby. Perhaps not very ‘woke’ or PC but it’s history and quite an innocent portrayal. To be honest, and based only on my own experience of India over the past couple of years is that the westerners in control throughout the period of the Raj have been replaced with influential Indians, and much of the culture and infrastructure in place is little changed from the height of Empire in the 19thC. But I love it.

Monday 6 May 2024

The Only Westerner in the Village

We managed to wangle temporary membership of the Bangalore United Services Club thanks to K’s ex husband.

It activates each time we come stay. Interesting place and lots of facilities including a pool. Winston Churchill was here before independence and he scarpered without paying his bill. They have it framed on display in the Clubhouse. Amusing I thought.


Sunday 5 May 2024

1813 Campaign - what really happened

I wasn’t there when this battle took place. The Czar had been counselled into turning to face the French, largely at my urging. Wittgenstein (me) was elsewhere so I was safe from any stray cannon balls. 

What happened during battle? I honestly have no idea except that we held off a serious attack by Ney’s corps and caused them a lot of damage but in the process lost some artillery and a fair proportion of our grenadier division. Conrad wisely chose to disengage, which thanks to our superior numbers and quality of cavalry he was able to do without further loss. Casualties were about even at 7,000 or so French and 8,000 Russians and Prussians. We were outnumbered considerably but if I am correct we have lots of reinforcements on their way, so should be able to better absorb the losses.

The rules used were Snappy Nappy which are quite brutal if I remember from the time I last played them. 

Here are a few shots of the game, taken by a spy satellite and played at Nigel’s war room. 

I can’t say much more but the massed ranks of Nigel’s 15mm collection look splendid. 

The Allies have completed their turn 4, and we await the next French move.

Friday 3 May 2024

The Destruction of the Imperial Army, Volume 3: The Sedan Campaign

I’m still away so here for your enjoyment or otherwise is another review of one of my holiday reading choices.

Following on from the first two volumes, the next in the series in Helion’s ‘from Musket to Maxim’ series, ‘The Destruction of the Imperial Army, Volume 3: The Sedan Campaign 1870 by Grenville Bird is unsurprisingly yet another masterpiece, and the superb quality of the previous volumes is maintained throughout.

Volume 3 advances the woes of Napoleon III’s army, this time the spotlight being on the fighting leading up to the debacle that was the short (barely a fortnight from the formation of the Army of Chalons to its surrender) and decisive Sedan campaign, culminating in the surrender of the city, the 100,000 plus strong French Army of Chalons, and the French Emperor, on 2 September.

We begin with the various and somewhat ill-thought deliberations among the French high command which led them (and leads the reader) on the road to Sedan. This is followed by a breakdown of the Army of Chalons. Many of its component corps and divisions were in poor shape after the earlier battles, and lacked equipment, horses, clothing, weapons (including artillery). One contemporary writer present with the army pulls no punches when describing the quality of newly-arrived officers (it seems the bottom of the barrel was being well and truly scraped to furnish sufficient officers for the new formations and as replacements for casualties. The same writer considered the majority of the NCOs he saw to be ‘more or less inept’ and newly promoted, and the replacements young and inadequately trained or old soldiers recalled to the colours. I leave it to the reader to enjoy his descriptions of the army. One anecdote probably sums it all up, when troops came under fire while encamped, loosing seven killed and eight wounded. Chasseurs were sent into the woods to determine to source of the firing, only to find it was their own men on a poaching expedition for their cooking pots!

The remainder of the book, over 400 pages, gets us straight into the action, where the combat at Nouart, the battle of Beaumont and finally the battle of Sedan are described eloquently and in forensic detail. This is always a boon to wargamers in any period.

Eight appendices give us orders of battle for each of the battles covered in this volume as well as detailed casualty returns. I do not mind that the extremely comprehensive orders of battle are perhaps (I have heard said) not the easiest to read, but the information they present is widely available elsewhere should anyone really struggling wish to look. I managed perfectly well to understand them.

There are 58 colour and black and white images, and following the pattern seen in the earlier volumes, some are contemporary and others are photos of features of each battlefield as they are to be found today. As in the earlier volumes many of the battlefield photos compare the ground as it was in 1870 and in the present day.

Volume 3 contains 17 highly detailed colour maps showing the topography and the movements and deployment of the formations involved, which are helpful to refer to when following the strategic and tactical movements of the armies. It is worth a reminder that if one makes a visit to the Helion website you can gain access to .pdf copies of all the maps in order to avoid too much flicking back and forth.

Grenville has done it again! Like volumes 1 and 2, The Destruction of the Imperial Army, volume 3: The Sedan Campaign is a masterpiece equally valuable to Franco-German War novices or the more informed (I would not class myself as an expert, more of an enthusiastic amateur). As with the two predecessor volumes I could easily go into overload in the number of adjectives I might use to describe this book. Suffice to say in terms of the depth of research and quality of writing it is simply an absolute cracker and both a fascinating tale of the demise of Imperial France and a highly informative one to boot. This has to be a must for anyone with an interest in the Imperial phase of the war. Volume 4 is already available (and as yet untouched on my bookshelves) and I am looking forward to reading it next.

ISBN 978-1-804513-32-3 soft back, 477 pages

Thursday 2 May 2024

1813 Campaign - Russian Press Release


I will try and add to the style and content of St Petersburg’s favourite organ of truthfulness in future bulletins.