Sunday, 20 September 2009
At the Colonel's Table, Part 5: by Don Houghton, Wargamer's Newsletter 92 November 1969
The ball and grape-shot tore great jagged lines through their ranks. But they did struggle on and joined up with the shattered Dragoon Guards, the latter now mustering less than a squadron ii strength.
The battle was all but over. Some Cuirassiers did try and give chase to my surviving infantry - but I had moved the R.H.A. batteries from Monte Petirrojo to a position near the northern ford, covering the remains of my Corps as it made for the Corunna road and safety.
It was a moral victory for the Colonel. I had managed to get some of my troops past his force - but at a terrible cost. Readers may be interested in the final muster of the respective Corps after the campaign.
1st Btn. 11nd Reg. of Foot: Casualties = 32% . 68% of the battalion got through
1st Btn. 55th Reg. of Foot: Casualties = 26% . 74% of the battalion got through
1st Btn. 92nd Highland Reg: Casualties = 41% . 59% of the battalion got through
1st Btn. Coldstream Guards: Entire battalion killed or captured
2 Coys. 95th (Rifle Regiment): Both companies killed or captured
3 Coys, the Royal Marines: All companies killed or captured
10th Hussars: Casualties = 24%. 76% of the regiment got through
13th Light Dragoons: Entire regiment killed or captured
The Royal Scots Greys: No casualties. Entire regiment got through
The 1st (Kings) Dragoon Guards: Casualties = 68%. 32% of the regiment got through
Royal Horse artillery: Three batteries lost. Three got through
British casualties killed, captured or seriously wounded: 54.1%
42nd Line Regt: Casualties = 11%
49th Line Regt: Casualties = 8%
2nd Imperial Guard: Casualties = 18%
2 Coys of Voltigeurs: Casualties = 21%
Polish Lancers: Casualties = 15%
Hussars: Casualties = 11%
Chasseurs a Cheval: Casualties = 17%
Empresses Dragoon Guards: Casualties = 24%
1st Cuirassiers: Casualties = 29%
2nd Cuirassiers: Casualties = 48%
Field Artillery: Casualties = 48%
French casualties, killed or seriously wounded: 18.3%
Strangely enough, the Colonel was rather subdued in victory and even went so far as to compliment me on getting even 43.9% of my troops through his forces. He had, he said, estimated that less than a third of my entire Corps would reach the Corunna road beyond Filomela. It was only when I saw him putting away his Heavy Cavalry that I fully understood. The Cuirassiers were the pride of his vast collection - and my Horse Artillery had wrought havoc amongst them. His Heavy Brigade had lost a third of its troopers.
We spoke of this in the Post Mortem, something which was to become a regular feature in our gaming. He snorted violently as he said: "Trouble with you is that you don't like to come to grips. Your artillery, f'r’instance, sitting up on that damn’ hill. No glory in lobbing shot from way off like that. Reduces the whole tiling to the meagreness of a damn' coconut shy!" I didn't argue. I had proved the effectiveness of those RH.A. batteries on Monte Petirrojo, at least, to my own satisfaction. It was fair enough if the Colonel tended to dismiss them and their marksmanship. He firmly maintained that the bright spark of my campaign was the Highlander's stand, just north west of the road. (GAME NOTE I had to dice for their morale no less than three times during the Heavy Brigade's onslaught. I was lucky enough to find them standing fast each throw). It was the staunchness of their square which enabled the 22nd and 55th to make their escape. As for the fighting on the eastern side, and the loss of my Coldstreamers, he had nothing but disdain. I had fallen quickly and easily into his trap - one, which he maintained, even the greenest subaltern should have foreseen - and he had been well satisfied with the results.
I was amazed to find that it was 8.30 p.m. and now that the battle was over I-felt totally exhausted! The Colonel's wife announced that dinner was almost ready and brought in decanters and glasses on a silver tray. It's been a long time since I enjoyed a scotch so much.
Over the meal we talked about the campaign and wargaming in general. His patient wife sat and smiled and said very little. It was after eleven when I finally took my leave. Although I had been well and truly thrashed in the battle, I felt strangely elated as I drove home. have many interests and some other hobbies, but I could think of none which absorbed me as completely as did wargaming. I suppose, like other aficionados, my involvement with battles and toy soldiers gave me cause to ponder. Did the hobby satisfy some deep down, subconscious lust for violence? Or, worse still, was it some vague, martial substitute for a fading masculinity? (Oh, how modern students of psychology, psychiatry and psycho-whatever would love to analyse that!) I didn't think so - and my wife assured me that she didn't think the latter was the case.
It was the Colonel who gave me the only answers that have ever really satisfied me on the subject. True, he is an old reactionary - but he still makes a lot of sense - between snorts and guffaws. "It's the era we live in," he said. "The 20th Century has gained too much momentum. No one knows how to put on the brakes. There's nothing left to discover, nothing to satisfy inherent instincts for survival, every¬thing is fabricated and we don't look for truth or beauty or naturalness anymore. No one appreciated wars that were nothing short of damn' blood-baths - but wars are getting worse all the time! There never has been an era more violent than this. And there never has been so many people getting so violent about the need for peace! You find snips of lads rioting and demonstrating all over the place, citizens rebelling against regimes, people smashing things and killing things - and everyone looking for some answer in violence. I've been a soldier most of my life - but I loathe and detest today's savagery. It scares the living daylights out of me!”
He paused for a moment to assemble his thoughts and bring the subject back to wargaming. "Wargaming isn't really a substitute for anything - not the sort of substitute the psycho-wallahs talk about. But, for a few hours each week, it does help, just a little, with some of the question marks that plague us. You'll always find an answer on the wargame table. Someone will win, someone will lose, some decision will be reached. The urge to create is satisfied, be it in the painting of a single soldier, the forming of a regiment or some pleasing feature of terrain. You've built something where nothing existed before. The colours of the uniforms and banners are aesthetically satisfying to the eye. That is, if you have an eye for form - yes, and beauty. There is a rhythm and pattern in the movement of the troops. There is a basic truth in the actual combat. If you don't depend too much on the dice, the better man will win, all things being equal. There is the absorption of delving into history - and this nearly always means discovering things - at least, discovering things that will interest you, personally. As for the fighting when your troops join battle - is it really fighting in the violent sense? Or isn't it a bit more than that? Isn't it a question of exercising your wits - mentally, rather than physically, pitting yourself against an enemy? Your senses, too. I'll wager there's not a true Wargamer who doesn't feel some twinge of sadness or remorse when he witnesses a favourite regiment suffering." I agreed with him, remembering his attitude when his Cuirassiers started' to fall. "Then there's the exhilaration that comes hard on the heels of a successful cavalry charge, or the elation when an infantry square stands fast and steady. Yes, a lot of emotions are aired at the wargame table - and most of them good ones. I don't believe that there's anything bloodthirsty in the hobby. After all, chess has been played for umpteen years - I doubt whether its enthusiasts could be accused of indulging in sadism. Most serious wargamers I've come across have invariably been gentle, thoughtful people. You see, I don't think there is anything wrong with com-petition or the competitive spirit. But then, I'm old fashioned. I subscribe to the old fashioned idea of patriotism. So many seem to think that it's a dirty word to describe a weakness these days. I love my country and I appreciate all the :good things it stands for. Yes, still stands for. I am hurt and angered by the things seem to be losing. I dislike intolerance, indifference and national laziness. On a wargame table I find a certain degree of perfection. ll my troops are valiant, all my commanders adventurous and vigorous - and all my horses thoroughbreds! It's not reality - but, by God, it's not a bad goal to strive for!"
What an enigmatical character he is! An illustrious soldier (he holds the MC and has been Mentioned in Despatches on more than a couple of occasions) who, beneath a steely crust abhors and detests mankind's perpetual need to kill, maim and destroy. A bluff, gruff, hearty man who has obviously lived his life to the brim - yet who possesses, deep, deep down, the soul of the poet and the appreciation of a lover of beautiful things.
And if he ever discovers I've written these thing about him - he'll slaughter me!
This was the last article in the series