Monday, January 24, 2011

Black Powder at Home

I had my first game at home (note to self - need a table tennis table!) with Harry, an ex-NWA member who lives in the same suburb. While our respective broods entertained each other, we got down to the serious business of playing our first game of the Black Powder rules.

Even with all the leaves inserted in the dining room table, I could only use ?2/3 of the terrain tiles and the ends hung over the edges quite dramatically and anyone (like inquisitive offspring!) squeezing past the end of the table tended to bump the overhanging end and threaten to topple the nearest formations over.

Anyway, to the game. We started the game under a misapprehension that orders from a general were rolled for brigade by brigade, rather than battalion by battalion, resulting in my first blunder roll (in my first turn!) affecting the whole British brigade. This blunder rule was a killer for my game, even when we decided to test for command unit by unit rather than brigade by brigade. Once a blunder is commited, no more orders can be given by that commander for that turn, which left me like a shag on a rock, after rolling 3 double sixes through the game!

Not surprisingly, Harry took full advantage of this by getting in between my two brigades and pressing home his attack on my British units. My Spaniards did reasonably after the Irish regiment were smashed, but mainly because Harry's dice rolling for casualty saves was as appalling as my rolling for command blunders. The casualty mechanism works similarly to the disorder mechanism in our club rules in that trying to do anything with an accumulation of casualties is very risky as morale becomes very brittle. I'll have to paint up some more casualty markers because my supply was woefully inadequate and we had to resort to yellow counters instead, which didn't look nearly as good.

In the end Harry broke 2 British battalions in the centre and managed to get his cavalry around on my left flank which threatened my whole brigade, so we ended there declaring a French victory.

The verdict for Black Powder? It was an entertaining, if frustrating, introduction to the rules. It isn't as detailed as our club rules and I found some of the mechanisms strange, such as the ability to move the same distance in line as in column. We reduced distances due to the table size and the number of troops, moving 6" instead of 12" per turn, which worked well. Next time I'll try tinkering with unit special abilities to make a more accurate representation of forces. As it was, I gave the British cavalry the Determined Charge characteristic, which means they have to charge if given the opportunity. That destroyed my left hand squadron, charging against superior opposition, but allowed my right hand squadron to charge and break an infantry square! The Spanish were classed as Unreliable, which sounds worse than it was, so in future I'll have to make them less powerful than they were this time around.

As Harry said, the dice were the 3rd player, which offered some surprising and entertaining, if frustrating, elements of chance to the game that may not appeal to purists, but for an afternoon hit and giggle type of game I thought it was a lot of fun. The command elements of the game has given me some food for thought for our own club rules and I could see that adapting some of the BP rules to our game could offer a bit more of the element of chance, or the 'fog of war' to our game that may make it that more entertaining. On the other hand, another layer of rules might be asking a bit too much for our rules. Stay tuned!

Apolgies for the quality of the photos; it took me a while to realise that the photos would turn out better without the flash!

British brigade after the 1st blunder move forced it to the left
British infantry advancing after blunder move
Harry's French
His left brigade heads for the buildings and my Spanish brigade
My Spanish left showing their flank to the French after my second blunder move left them stranded!
British try to make the best of the blunder move by forming between woods and wall. Guns too exposed, though!
Reg. Irlanda about to be crushed by French charge after already suffering maximum 3 casualties
Waloons repulse French charge, while putting Reg. Toledo in a good position to catch the French in the flank
Vol. de la Patria threatened from the flank and rear
Vol. de la Patria manage to re-align to face French threat while Toledo and Waloons prepare to smash the French to the front
The French not smashed, but forced back with maximum casualties.
Harry moves his cavalry from left to right behind his infantry which advances up onto the hill
British spread out in line with riflemen in skirmish order to meet the oncoming French
Skirmishers fire on advancing French column inflicting casualties
French fan out into line and fire on British line through the skirmish screen. The opportunity fire function of Cold Steel would have come in handy here!
The French advance on the Thin Red Line.
French and Spanish clash on the ridge to the right.
The Spanish brigades's artillery made the 3rd blunder roll, panicking and fleeing to the rear!
Luckily, the Vol. de la Patria repulse the French
French light infantry catch the British artillery battery and smash them!
They continue onto the flank of the British line
French form up from the farm across the field while the Vol de la Patria and Reg. Toledo prepare to meet them
The French light infantry attacks the flank of the British line which falls back, but the French also come out badly and retreat. The damage is done, though and a big gap has opened up with plenty of French to exploit it

To the north of the farm, the British cavalry charge the column previously repulsed by Waloon Guards, who form square........

...but are crushed by the light dragoons. Huzzah!
The fire fight at the farm heats up with the Spanish taking casualties
After a fruitless combat to the left of the British position, Harry sends in his fresh Chasseurs supported by the weakened dragoons to smash the other cavalry squadron. Having the Determined Charge characteristic, the British cavalry couldn't refuse to fight.....
.......and were crushed!
The firefight in the centre ended with...
....the centre breaking....
...and with the French cavalry sweeping around the left flank, the game was declared a French victory.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Zayas' division from Albuera

I've finally finished the batallion of the Voluntarios de la Patria, giving them the the Army Painter treatment and basing them for the club rules.

I've pictured them with the rest of the Spanish batallions I've painted, all elements of Zayas' (4th) Division from Albuera. They'll all get their baptism tomorrow when Harry comes round to have a game of Black Powder, both of us virgins to this new ruleset, so I don't think there will be a fancy scenario or anything. I'll still take some shots and write an AAR and my thoughts on the rules.

Voluntarios de la Patria  

Zayas' division from l to r, Vol. del la Patria, Waloon Guards, Reg. Toledo, Reg. Irlandais

Zayas' division

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book Review - Age of Battles

The latest book to receive the Rosbif review treatment has been a long time coming. It seems I've been reading this book for ever. My excuse is that Christmas holidays have been busier than expected, and last minute preparations for the Aspern-Essling weekend also cut into reading time.

The Age of Battles by Russell Weigley looks at military history from the dawn of the modern age to the beginning of the 19th c., the classical era of disciplned, trained, professional armies and the deliberate seeking of battles of annihilation. With a starting point of the 30 Years' War, and Gustavus Adolphus' army in particular, the book traces innovations in political, logistical and strategic thinking culminating in Napoleon's campaigns and his defeat at the hands of the allies and particularly those of Prussia, the apogee of the professionalisation of warfare.

Gustavus Adolphus himself took his lead from the newly independent Dutch, who in turn looked back to Rome for their inspiration. The idea of a profession of arms separate from the old chivalric concepts of the noble descendants of the knightly classes was a new one at the time. A king who could command an army that was devoted to him alone, bypassing the nobles who raised their own forces on behalf of the king, at once had a powerful asset. Nobles tended to be aristocrats first and soldiers second, so their competence and tactical, let alone strategic, thinking was very limited. The new breed of officer did not have the social standing or the family fortune to fall back on, so tended to take the profession of arms more seriously than the nobility previously had.

Gustavus Adolphus then used this more professional force motivated by a fervent belief in the righteousness of their Protestant cause to seek out the enemy and destroy him in one great battle of annihilation, not just to win the war, but to bring about a speedy end to it. His relatively meagre resources meant he couldn't afford a protracted campaign, which forced him to seek a decisive battle with which to end the war in one stroke. His casualties forced him to recruit mercenaries because his population base wasn't big enough to absorb his losses and his supply lines were stretched to breaking point which forced him to ignore his more humane aims in fighting the war; as a result the advance of his army became a byword in crulety of rape and pillage.

After his death in battle, his aimed methods of waging war became the aims of every general and warlord to come, from Louis XIV and Marlborough, to Frederick the Great and Napoleon. However, due to the nature of the society that these successful generals came from, the potential professionalisation of arms was never fully realised. Standing armies were always viewed with suspicion and officers from the nobility still preferred to view their military  responsibiites as secondary to their social life. Those who wished to take their position seriously had to study the military profession alone, rather than be trained in a state run training school for military leaders. Usually the successful generals succeeded in spite of rather than because of the administration of the armed forces through sheer force of personality as both Marlborough and Wellington did.

On the other hand, the author argues, the smaller role played by rulers in active campaigning during the 18th Century indicated that the military was gradually becoming a professional tool of foreign policy, rather than a plaything of kings, Frederick the Great and Napoleon being exceptions to the rule.They bucked the trend in being miitary geniuses who held all the controls of state in their own hands and who did not deign to share their genius with those beneath them, consequently suffering the results of this decision when subordinates engaged in battle away from the ruler's gaze more oftne than not failed.

It was only with the coming of the Prussian army in the aftermath of their disastrous defeats in 1806 that the profession of arms was to become a truly professional arm of the state. The catalyst was the newly sprouted nationalism that united all sectors of society into a united front, all striving for the same result; the defeat of Napoleon. Officers were trained in the art of war and came from the middle classes as well as from the traditional noble Junker class. Citizenry were mobilised to form a trained pool of reserves, or landwehr, and the older veterans organised into a home-defence militia, or landsturm.

Proper staff organisation was also instituted, taking a lot of the administrative and logistical weight off the shoulders of the commander, allowing for the proper formulation of tactics as well as strategy. Previously the commander was responsible for all aspects of the campaign which could result in shortages suffered by the troops and consequently foraging and worse amongst the local civilian population.

The flip-side of these developments, the author contends, was a powerful military that instead of being subordinated to civilian authority, was actually a driving force in political life with nationalism fuelling it. Only until 1918, or even 1945, could it be argued that this nexus was broken in what became the inheritor of Prussia's militarism, Germany.

This book puts the campaigns of the wars of the 17th and 18th centuries into perspective and counters the myth of  the 18th C being an age of limited wars. The author contends that it was more limited means that limited wars, not some preconceived agreement between nations to reduce the impact of warfare. The continuous seeking of decisive battle from Breitenfeld, through Belnheim to Waterloo was the goal of all commanders, even though the indications were more and more turning towards wars of attrition such as American War of Independence, the Peninsula War, and the campaigns in Russia and Germany from 1812-1814. The developing professionalism of the armies of Europe ensured that no army was ever too far ahead of any other, and that when one army did draw ahead tactically or strategically, they never held that advantage for long, ending in a stalemate in the balance of power that made warfare an inherently risky and increasingly pointless exercise in foreign policy. Attempts at continental hegemony always came to nothing after a lot of expenditure in lives and treasure that eventually led to the the greatest upheaval the continent had ever seen; the French Revolution. Even that led to another round of warfare for the control of Europe, and that ended in defeat for the French and victory for the forces of conservatism. The country with the least investment in the army, although partly protected by geography, was the one that came out on top; Great Britain. The author contends that the bloody 18th c was a disaster for the continental powers that competed in the arms race that culminated in the bloodbath that were the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Aspern-Essling 2011

Last weekend saw the Napoleonics contingent of the club migrate eastwards to Drouin for the 5th annual January extravaganza at Tim's place in Drouin. Three days of battle during the day and good food (and drink!)and company during the evening make for a very happy Rosbif! It was a lot of fun and I can't thank Tim and Jill enough for their hospitalty.

This year was a refight of Aspern-Essling, starting from the original dispositions and then letting the battle develop from there. Day one saw the Austrians enter the field piecemeal with columns 1 and 2 entering from the northwest while the French cavalry screen fell back. Column 3, commanded by yours truly, and the cavalry reserve entered the board mid-morning, while columns 4 and 5 didn't enter the board til later in the day. The French could easily cope with the threat to Aspern from Columns 1 and 2 with 2 divisions. The advance on the centre by Column 3 was met with a torrent of horseflesh, which, at one stage, gave their opposites in the cavalry reserve a very bloody nose by wiping out the horse guns and catching the supporting squadrons behind flat-footed and smashing at least 2. The infantry formed square and hunkered down.

Austrian commanders became a bit spooked by the dike and what lay behind, so by the end of day one, the Austrian 2IC, Tim, had to give a pep-talk to get the attack renewed for the next day as most people seemed to be going into a defensive frame of mind. An overnight cease-fire was declared during which all buildings in the villages remained in the hands of those who occupied them, but all forces in the centre pulled back to starting positions to rest and redeploy. On Tim's suggestion, the Archduke Charles, also called Charles, formed a Grand Battery that stretched 1.5m across the table, virtually covering the space between the 2 villages.

From behind this giant sledgehammer, we reformed for the attack while awaiting the arrival of the grenadier reserve, while the attacks on the villages resumed. The plan was that columns 4 and 5 would so threaten the French right flank that they'd have to weaken the centre (During this phase Archduke Charles attached himself to an attack in Essling and managed to get himself killed!). Column 3 and the grenadiers advanced while trying to suppress counter attacks and silence the (smaller) French Grand Battery on the dike. The progress was slow but steady, but any success looked temporary as the area between the dike and the Danube was crowded with Frenchmen, while Austrian reserves were being chewed up. The crisis came with a counter-attack on the grenadiers to the east of Column 3 and west of Essling that broke several battalions and looked like it was to be followed up by a horde of French line infantry. Unfortunately the attacks by column 5 were not enough to distract nearly enough French from the growing Austrian central attack.

The battlefield 

 The dike (all my own work!)

 The Austrians (or some of them); Macolm, Jim, Tim & Garry

 French cavalry NW of Aspern

 Vanguard of Column 1

 We mean business!

 Teeny-tiny battalion of Vienna Volunteers

 Vengeance for Vienna!

Columns 1 & 2 wind their way onto the field

 Column 3 fans out north of the dike

 One of the first attcks on Aspern by Column 2

 Skirmishing south of Aspern near the Gemeinde Au

 Here comes the heavy cavalry!


3rd Column infantry and artillery prepare to meet cavalry covered by 2nd Column cavalry

 3rd Column bogged down short of the dike by the end of day 1

 Aspern church safely in Austrian hands. Huzzah!

 5th Column advancing via Gross Enzendorf with the rest of the field beyond.

The Grand Battery at daybreak day 2 seen from the Aspern end.

From the Essling end.

Eat iron, Frenchies!
 The French view.

 Heroes of Austria.

 Wheel to wheel guns.

 5th column advance to the outskirts of Essling.

 French infantry on the flank of Essling approach screened by heavy cavalry; LOTS of heavy cavalry.

 Safely skirting Essling.

 The crisis of day 2; I'd put squares infront of the guns, per Tim's suggestion, much to the consternation of the other Austrians. However, Andrew B (aka Napoleon) admitted later that this move had confounded his expectations of how I'd face this threat and effectively frustrated his breakthrough plan. Wounding one of his generals in the ensuing charge didn't help his plans, either!

 Middle Guard Fusilier-Grenadiers at Essling.

 Andrew S.'s troops from Column 4.

 Blankenstein Hussars at Essling.

 Lots o' landwehr

Another of Andrew S.'s attacks on Essling goes in.
 Grenzers of Jim's 5th Column.

 Square up!

 Hungaraians in square while Austrian cuirassiers deal with the threat in the distance.

 The never-ending supply of French cuirassiers.

 General D'Espagne survived this version of the battle, although General Rapp didn't.

 Carabiniers supporting infantry NW of Essling.

 The Austrian threat they faced.

 The growing maelstrom around Essling.

French infantry advance in closed column supported by Carabiniers.

 5th Column head into attack around the Long Garden south of Essling.

 All set for the general advance from behind the Grand Battery.

 What? You mean none of the French wore kilts?! 
Quinny shows his usual loyalties while slumming it playing French.

 The Imperial Guard hold the right flank south of Essling.

 Austrians looking pensive, though Archduke Charle with his back to camera shows his disdain for the French threat!

  Andrew S. says "What, is that all you've got?!"

 Austrians behind the Grand battery waiting for the Grenadier reserve before attacking the dike.

 5th Column regroups behind artillery before trying to dispute the Long Garden again.

 Andrew S. prepares an attack on the Granary. A more imposing version of it started the game in the same position, but its footprint was too large for the table, hence the shed next to the dice.

 Elements of 3rd Column make way for the Grenadiers.

 The Weber division of 3rd Column goes forth to conquer or die! (Mostly die.)

 I'm coming with you, boys!

 The white mass trudges on into the teeth of the French guns.

 The Austrians consider the position.

 Broken units fleeing cause a traffic jam for the following Brady division of 3rd Column.

 3rd Column attacks on a narrow front to avoid artillery to the front.

 The table fills up. Around 1600 figures were used!

 The French reserves move up.

 Austrian reserves wait in closed column.

 Archduke Charles attached to an attacking column in Essling moments before taking a bullet.

 Aerial view of developing scrimmage around Aspern and the dike to the east.

 Andrew S.'s columns march to the attack at Essling.

 The push and pull continues in the Long Garden.

 French infantry spent time in square, too.

 3rd column make it over the dike after finally dealing with the artillery to the front, with the help of the Grenadiers to the left. Alas, the Grenadiers further to the left were not faring so well and were being mauled by Guard troops and the supporting line infantry.

 The situation at the end of the weekend.

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