Saturday, 20 January 2018

Vindolanda - Adrian Goldsworthy

My last book review of 2017 focussed on my summer holiday reading, Empire IV by Anthony Riches and I have since October last year rapidly read my way through the first four books in his Empire series.

Due to a mix up by Amazon just before Xmas when I knew I would be needing the next book to take me over the holiday, I ended up with some romantic novel whilst some lady in Durham ended up with my Roman adventure and I couldn't say which of us was the more disappointed.

With the Xmas post period coming to an end and with a few hours to spend on Xmas shopping I spotted Adrian Goldsworthy's (AG) Roman novel 'Vindolanda' set during, perhaps one of my favourite periods in early imperial Roman history, the time of Trajan on the northern frontier of Britain before any great stone wall had been constructed and during a time of great upheaval as it was any time a new emperor came to the imperial throne.

Rather than go through the set up and storyline of this book which can be followed on Dr Goldsworthy's site;

I thought I would outline what I really enjoyed with this particular book that saved my Xmas reading time.

With my own collection of EIR and Dacian figures very high up on the 'get done next' list this kind of literature is very good for feeding the imagination and inspiring scenario ideas. What is even better is if that literature is not only entertaining but written by one of the foremost authorities on the Roman Army and a wargamer 'to boot'.

The book, as AG describes it, is very much like a western with a distinct feeling of a frontier policed by a force in occupation but not necessarily accepted by all the locals. Throw in a fanatical druid and his likewise fanatical followers, tribal politics with the frontier kings and a 'who dunnit' detective style thriller looking for traitors in the camp and you have a heady mixture of Roman warfare and all the 'politicking' that went with it.

Not only that but I was intrigued to see that AG had built his characters around the little that is known of the people who were living in and around the early frontier fortress of Vindolanda based on the most recent finds among the Vindolanda tablets naming several of the individuals mentioned.

Then there are the period and location details that just add to that sense of feel for this era and place, such as the title 'Centurio Regionarius' associated with the lead character, Titus Ferox who we learn is a Briton and a centurion from the II Augusta now detached from his legion in this role of being responsible for the Pax Romana on his section of the frontier, a role outlined in the Vindolanda tablets.

As I was reading the descriptions of the Roman punitive force marching into the Caledonian foothills I found myself imagining a similar tabletop force and those that opposed them, all this knowing the descriptions were coming from the pen of an expert in the field.

The phrase 'I couldn't put it down' is perhaps a shorthand cliché reserved for those book critics favoured by some of the more salacious tabloids, but that describes my reading over Xmas. I think Carolyn is perhaps not looking forward to me reading the next book in the Vindolanda series as more than once I was told to put the light out and go to sleep.

I really enjoyed this first adventure for Centurion, Legio II Augusta, Titus Flavius Ferox, Centurio Regionarius, or should that be 'sheriff in these parts"and his sharp associate (perhaps deputy), fellow Briton and comrade in arms Vindex, Brigantian Scout leader.

The Encircling Sea

In addition I am really looking forward to reading the second book in the series 'The Encircling Sea' due to be published in May and hearing the author present at Crusade 2018 later this month.

A good read

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Bomber Command Teaser - Tell me what this is!

Ok the pictures you see here are of an item acquired by a friend, Ian, who asked me if I could identify it.

As you can see we are looking at a rather large round that has a slug in it with what can only be described as a 'pencil sharpener' type of blade.

This item would have been found on a Lancaster II bomber as seen below and was very much part of the aircraft's defence systems particularly when operating at low altitude.

Answer to follow unless anyone reading the post who thinks they knows what we are looking at cares to share the answer in a comment.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Over the Hills Play Test - Corunna (Two Hundredth and Ninth Anniversary Game)

Few and short were the prayers we said,
And we spoke not a word of sorrow;
But we steadfast gazed on the face of the dead,
And we bitterly thought of the morrow.

Today is the two hundred and ninth anniversary of the Battle of Corunna so picking up where we left off in 2017, it seemed very appropriate to start the first of the four remaining Over the Hills Peninsular War scenarios with this scenario of the battle.

Looking from the French lines towards the village of Elvina and the Monolos river

The Battle of Corunna is often remembered as the British 'Dunkirk' of the Peninsular War where General Sir John Moore saved Britain's main army from destruction following a harrowing pursuit over the Galician mountains in the height of winter, to turn, face and beat Marshal Soult's army before evacuating to the awaiting transports only to see Moore fatally wounded at the moment of his triumph.

The British army that fought at Corunna was Britain's premier force with the vast majority of the infantry composed of first battalions and despite Moore's best efforts of returning 80% of it home, would see the rest of this force wasted in the Walcheren expedition in July 1809 as Moore's replacement and vindicated Sir Arthur Wellesley battled with the cream of the Grand Armee at Talavera with many junior second battalions among his ranks.

The other end of the French position on the lower slopes of the Altos de Penesquada

The quality of the British troops must be born in mind when looking at this battle as despite the situation Moore found himself in, his soldiers were more than capable and equally determined to give a good account of themselves when Marshal Soult sent his columns forward into the attack at about 13.45 on the 16th January 1809.

View of the French positions from the British line above Elvina atop the Monte Mero ridge

In addition, despite the harrowing conditions experienced during the retreat to the port city, the British had had almost three days to recuperate before its walls before the arrival of the transports and the French, so were in better shape than when they first arrived.

With the ships came new uniforms, weapons and some ammunition, offset by the destruction of many of the cavalry mounts as horses were slaughtered on the docks and neighbouring cliffs to create space for troops and stores, with only nine pieces of artillery left on the slopes of the Monte Mero ahead of the coming battle.

Bentick's brigade with the 1/4th Foot and supported by just three RFA six pounder cannon cover the road from Elvina

On the 16th of January at midday Moore issued orders to General Paget to prepare his reserve division for immediate embarkation to the transports and the men were in columns, contemplating a return to 'Blighty' when the French guns began a preparatory bombardment drawing the attention of sailors and soldiers alike as Moore immediately rescinded his orders to Paget and headed back up to his rearguard brigades atop the Monte Mero ridge.

Soult's three columns of four battalions from the 47me Ligne, 31me Legere and 122me Ligne

To General Paget's and his mens credit all thought of home was abandoned as they immediately sloped arms and headed back towards the British stop line behind the villages of Elvina and Piedralong.

GdD Houssaye with GdB Caulaincourt's brigade of dragoons and supporting horse artillery

It would be before the former of the two villages and furthest away from the sea and any naval interference that the French under Soult would press their main attack whilst demonstrating before the latter in an attempt to confuse the defenders.

The weight of Soult's attack was designed to turn the British line in front of Elvina with cavalry feeling out the British right flank

Major Charles Napier commanding the 50th Foot described the scene as General Moore arrived on the ridge above Elvina as the French columns assembled on the slopes opposite behind their thick screen of skirmishers.

"Thrown on its haunches the animal came, sliding and dashing the dirt up with its fore feet, thus bending the General forward almost to its neck; but his head was thrown back and his look more keenly piercing than I ever saw it." 

Lieutenant General Sir John Moore rushes to the Elvina position alerted by the midday bombardment from French guns

Moore had expected Soult to attempt to attack his right flank with Bentick's brigade positioned to take the brunt of any French assault, and with Warde's Guards brigade in support on the rear slopes of the Monte Mero together with Paget's reserve held back to be ready to extend the British flank and block any turning attempt whilst protecting the direct route into the city.

Major Charles Napier commanded the 1/50th Foot seen here overlooking the village to their front

Inspired by the sight of Moore ignoring shot and shell as he inspected the French attack, Napier rode across the front of his regiment, the 1/50th, moving to the right where the fire seemed the strongest, looking to share the dangers endured by his men and noticing that each time a cannon shot whistled over head the men all ducked.

'Don't duck' he told them cheerfully. 'The ball has passed before you hear the whizz'. But the instinct was irresistible. Only one man was able to restrain himself. He was uncommonly short and as his neighbours continued to bob their heads compulsively above him, he maintained a rigid composure as he looked calmly down the slope at the advancing enemy.

'You are a little fellow', Major Napier called to him, 'but the tallest man in the 50th today for all that - come to me after the battle and you shall be a sergeant.'

Major General Coote Manningham's brigade with the 3/1st Foot and 2/81st Foot forward

This scenario presents a relatively straight forward French attack on a British defended rear slope ridge with British reserve elements on call or with a variable arrival time plus a French dragoon brigade looking to unhinge the position before said reserves can take a hand.

French foot guns prepare to soften up what they can see of the British position

The 17me and 18me Provisional Dragoons prepare to scout out the difficult terrain

In this test of the timings of the French march across the valley and the timings of the various force arrivals, not to mention the difficulties of the terrain imposing itself on the contending armies, both Steve and I followed our historical predecessors battle plan,

Marshal Soult accompanied by GdD Mermet checks all is ready to begin his assault

Thus my French columns set off across the valley at the best possible speed hoping to impose themselves upon the two British brigades before the arrival of their supports whilst also sending Houssaye's dragoons off in search of a ford over the River Monelos to add to that discomfort.

The 47me Ligne preceded by a thick screen of voltigeurs prepare to assault Elvina

Steve likewise opted to follow Moore's prescription of holding his two brigades back behind the ridge line thus avoiding the worst of the French artillery and diverging from the script by choosing not to send the 50th and 42nd Foot forward to contest French occupation of Elvina.

The 31me Legere with the 122me Ligne to their right prepare to advance

These French battalions are not made of the same stuff as fought for Junot at Vimeiro, only on average numbering some 500 men, so I had to be judicious about where to press the attack, especially being aware of that powerful British Guards brigade being held in reserve.

Houssaye's dragoons scout the Monolos river for a suitable crossing point

French confidence levels were high as at the halfway stage their columns were on the forward slope and Houssaye's dragoons had discovered a crossing looking to cover the area with their horse guns as new orders were issued to support the attack of the infantry.

The French assault columns closes on the British position

The French guns do their best to support the attack in the face of a 'canny' British line using the reverse slope

As the French columns pressed they were met by British six pounder canister and accurate skirmish fire from the British light bobs who held firm in front of Bentick's brigade driving back the voltigeurs of the 47me Ligne.

Half an hour into the French advance with the broken ground doing nothing to make things easy for the French attack

The French columns have moved onto the Monte Mero ridge as Warde's Guards brigade are called forward by Moore 

As the battle began to rise in tempo the Guards made their appearance, and with two new formations now on the table, needing changes of orders, the new order die proved perfect for indicating the arrival of the respective aides delivering the new orders and reminding us to test for receipt on the next turn before replacing the die on the Force Morale card.

The 47me Ligne close on Bentick's brigade with both sides light battalions contesting the advance

Meanwhile the pressure builds on Coote Manningham's brigade as the French close, but now opposed by the Guards having advanced into the centre of the British position

As the French dragoons began to deploy on the other side of the Monelos river the second British brigade also managed to arrive setting the scene for the finale of the fight for control of the Monte Mero Ridge.

Having discovered a suitable ford, new orders are issued for the dragoons to attack

Likewise Warde's  Guards brigade are issued new orders to revert from 'reserve' to 'hold' in support of the forward brigades

As in the previous game tests this was very much about proving the concept and checking the timings of various events to set the scene for the final clash.

We came away satisfied with the the set up but with modifications discovered necessary to the orders of battle and some units positioning.

In addition we were able to define the role of our Combined Specialist Light Infantry battalions with some additional rules about their use clarified and to be further tested in upcoming scenarios.

The struggle reaches a climax as the formed infantry closes
The actual battle, saw the death of Sir John Moore and his subsequent burial that night before the evacuation of the troops which began at about 21.00. Sir John Hope who assumed command on Moore's death assessed the losses at seven to eight hundred killed and wounded, with the French estimated to have lost about double that number.

Next up we will be looking at the scenarios designed to model the key actions of the Oporto campaign.

Dedicated to the memory of John P Bowden

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Kiss Me Hardy - Devon Wargames Group

Yesterday at our first club meeting for 2018 I took in the sailing ships and ran a Suffren v Hughes inspired scenario using Kiss Me Hardy from the Too Fat Lardies.

Devon Wargames Group - Kiss Me Hardy in the Indian Ocean

As mentioned in my annual review for 2017 I intend to do some work on my age of sail collection and the game gave me an opportunity to reassess KMH as a contender to use as a rule set for the larger games, twenty to thirty ships aside, that I have in mind.

That said I am not convinced that KHM are the most appropriate to use for that size of game and I intend to showcase an alternative option going forward but I think KMH are excellent for the smaller game with just a few ships involved and where the card play involved in KMH really comes to the fore.

Another aspect discussed in the DWG AAR was that of command and control, something I am keen to develop with the larger type of game and the added friction such additions could add.

As mentioned in the AAR I have put together a PDF of the scenario played yesterday and have posted it to My Scenarios library also available in the link below.

Kiss Me Hardy in the Indian Ocean - Scenario PDF

Lastly, thanks to Steve L we were able to play our game on his newly acquired Tiny Wargames Sea Mat, one of which I have on order as part of a club deal to equip members with the right kind of mats to add that bit extra to the kind of games we play. I think you will agree it looks pretty cool.

Friday, 12 January 2018

The Second Barons War: Addendum, Lewes and Evesham 1264-65 - Richard Brooks

I have just got my hands on a copy of the new Osprey Campaign series covering the Second Barons war so I am now able to do a comparison with the John Sadler book on the same subject that I reviewed recently.

The book itself is in the familiar style to all the other Osprey Campaigns and with the content obviously covering the same events I can skip onto the comparison bit and just drop in key parts as I go.

The two battles get a much better coverage in this book with both a little more depth and sharper details however there is still only the same limited original information available so there are no new items in this book that Sadler didn’t know off or omitted from his, just that it has been put across in a way more agreeable for Ospreys typical customers.

The moving of the location of the Battle of Lewes to nearer the town and not up on the old racecourse is consistent in both books (and also in Oman, which I have subsequently re-read as well.) I am still unclear on how the general opinion for it being on the Downs was formed; even my venerable “More Battlefields of Britain” from 1952 puts both cases forward. The army movement and approach marches are generally easier to follow in the Osprey.

Overall in my opinion (and after all ,that’s what really counts) the Battle of Lewes can be called a draw between the two books.

Sadler’s version of the events that then occur in-between the two battles is much better however Osprey's coverage of what happens once the campaign kicks of again is clearly superior. This covers not only de Montfort’s movements in Wales but also his son’s actions in the south prior to being summoned by his father to join their armies together, then comes the surprise attack on Simon the Younger by Prince Edward at Kenilworth castle.

The key points regarding the battle and the army deployments, despite Sadler’s extensive outlining of all the various possibilities, are more in line with my thinking in the Osprey book.

The two main contentious points are:
1. The approach route taken by the Royalists
2. Was the bridge into Evesham subsequently blocked by one of the Royalists divisions thus trapping de Montfort.

Sadler follows Oman and some of the later experts by agreeing on the more complicated manoeuvring of the Royalists instead of the much more likely ‘straightest possible route’ theory and he also falls on the side of the ‘Mortimer blocks the Bridge‘camp.

I just don’t agree with either and the Osprey version is much more to my way of thinking. A large portion of the Royalists forces had already ridden to Kenilworth, fought a one sided action, ridden back and then had to set off again to try and intercept de Montfort, all in a few days. It’s far more likely you would take the quickest possible route and in a formation that allows you to deploy easily into three battles upon arrival. Edward knew roughly de Montfort’s movements so it was just a matter of catching up with him in time and more importantly a lot of this was all done at night. You also certainly wouldn't detach a third of your force on a circuitous march with all the potential problems that entails and I am also not convinced by the argument that Mortimer was instead already tailing De Montfort rather than being part of the main Royalist army.

Finally reading the Osprey version puts over the possible briefness of the battle, de Montfort was heavily outnumbered and his Welsh Infantry broke immediately thus leaving him with little option but to try an all out charge with his cavalry, I doubt the actual fighting lasted even an hour, if that.

Battle of Evesham: my vote goes to Osprey.

One other point of interest from both books and is linked to a discussion we had recently at the Devon Wargames Group, which was about the effectiveness of being uphill. Both Lewes and Evesham were won by the army that was uphill of the other. Could de Montfort have broken though at Evesham and escaped if it had been on level ground? Probably not as I think he already knew that the game was up otherwise if he wanted he could have crossed the bridge in his rear to safety as he had advised others to do. Also at Lewes Prince Edward charged uphill against the London troops and broke them (quality and morale answers that one) but the other two divisions both lost against smaller enemy forces.

I guess you now want to know which one to buy.

Well I would get both but only if you can find Sadler at £8 and the Osprey at £10 , I found that after reading Sadler first and then the Osprey that it all sunk in so much better and I could puzzle over the various disputed points in my head after seeing both sides. Sadler does give a good run down of all the possible options, I just don’t agree with all his findings.

If you have to pay full price for both then I would choose the Osprey, it has more maps, better pictures and more tightly focused , the course of the campaigns are much easier to follow and for once the limitation of 96 pages isn't a problem due to the paucity of available facts.

Paperback and Kindle
Readable pages 92 out of 96 (but with many pictures on each page)
RRP of £14.99 ,
Best price 11th Jan 2018 = £9.81+p&p Amazon
Amazon Lewes and Evesham 1264-65, Osprey Campaign series No.285

This has been a Mr Steve presentation.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Maurice - First Game 2018

The New Year got off to a fine start with my first game played and totally enjoyed as Steve M, myself and Martin got together here at Chez JJ to run through a game that Martin is putting on at this month's meeting of the DWG.

The rules for the game are Maurice, perhaps, in my humble opinion, Sam Mustafa's finest creation which comes from a superb collection of rules from this highly thoughtful and creatively innovative rules writer.

Since selling my AWI 15mm collection to Steve, I haven't played a game of Maurice for a very long time, in fact both Steve and I reflected that it had been too long as we both thoroughly enjoy the rules and have never had a boring game with them.

Following a discussion about this planned club game we decided on a play-test and re-familiarisation using Martin's new collection of 10mm Pendraken Seven Years War Prussians and Austrians.

Pendraken Miniatures

Now my old eyes can barely cope with 18mm, so you will not see me painting anything smaller than that, but after putting on my 'seeing glasses' my first thoughts were 'wow' these figures are impressively detailed for their diminutive scale and 'hats off' to Martin for picking out that detail with a lovely paint and basing job that only enhanced the game we played.

The other part of his collection I immediately recognised, having the 15/18mm versions in my own terrain set was the lovely collection of buildings on a purpose built latex surround from Total Battle Miniatures which with their black powder range of buildings are just perfect for this period, although I believe these are the 6mm versions providing a better scale of footprint with no loss of character.

I don't intend on revealing too much about this scenario as it is for a planned game at the club and we will no doubt have a full AAR to follow on the DWG blog once it is played; not only that, but occasionally some of my fellow DWG club members pop over here to see what's going on and I don't want to spoil any of their forthcoming fun.

Suffice to say that in our little play test, my small force of Prussians were tasked with holding on to the small hamlet you see in the pictures while being threatened by a much larger Austrian force of infantry, cavalry and irregulars.

If that wasn't challenge enough, the Prussian force started the action carrying disruption from previous manoeuvres that only added to their worries as the battle began.

Both Steve and I had become 'unconsciously, competent' with this set of rules following the multiple games we played following their release and, given that they are by no means a complicated set of rules to get ones head around, I was surprised at how 'consciously, incompetent' we had become in the recent time to this game.

That said, after a few turns of the familiar card play, which is the essence of these rules, we were starting to get back to the basics of play and the index sheet which was downloaded years ago from the Maurice forum (see the link below) helped enormously in tracking down the particular section of the rules that clarified a particular point in question.

Maurice - Downloads

The game barrelled along and we were soon all delighting in the simplicity and yet extraordinary texture and period feel for the era of linear warfare these rules create.

The added spice for both Steve and I, was the unfamiliarity with some of the rule additions that we were using when playing the Austrian and Prussian forces, particularly modifications on formation changes which were new to us having not had to content with them using AWI armies and thier looser formations.

We progressed our game through a deck and a half of cards and nearly twenty turns of play before the evening concluded and we went through a post game 'wash up' assessment, perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of historical wargaming.

The game renewed my love affair with this set of gloriously crafted rules and reinforced my own plans to build a new collection of 28mm AWI to use with them, with some ideas we discussed on the night of introducing divisional commanders, similar to notables in the rules, for activation and command purposes, rather than the group/formation-similarity process, but that is just me messing about with other peoples rules, looking for ever more granularity.

If you have never played Maurice, then I highly recommend them to your attention and the numerous game reports to be found on the net probably attest to my estimation of them.

As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed this my first game of 2018 and Maurice was the perfect way to start the year. Thank you to Steve M and Martin for providing all the fun and as I sit here writing up this look back I have just received my copy of Spring's "With Zeal and With Bayonets Only" to upgrade my education about the British army and its tactics during the American War of Independence - book review to follow.